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Horm Behav. 2011 Nov;60(5):498-504. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.07.018. Epub 2011 Aug 7.

Increasing oxytocin receptor expression in the nucleus accumbens of pre-pubertal female prairie voles enhances alloparental responsiveness and partner preference formation as adults.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Oxytocin receptors (OXTR) in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) promote alloparental behavior and partner preference formation in female prairie voles. Within the NAcc there is significant individual variation in OXTR binding and virgin juvenile and adult females with a high density of OXTR in the NAcc display an elevated propensity to engage in alloparental behavior toward novel pups. Over-expression of OXTR in the NAcc of adult female prairie voles using viral vector gene transfer facilitates partner preference formation, but has no effect on alloparental behavior, even though OXTR antagonists infused into the NAcc blocks both behaviors. We therefore hypothesized that long-term increases in OXTR signaling during development may underlie the relationship between adult OXTR density in the NAcc and alloparental behavior. To test this hypothesis, we used viral vector gene transfer to increase OXTR density in the NAcc of prepubertal, 21day old female prairie voles and tested for both alloparental behavior and partner preference formation as adults. Consistent with a developmental impact of OXTR signaling, adults over-expressing OXTR from weaning display both increased alloparental behavior and partner preference formation. Thus, the relatively acute impact of elevated OXTR signaling in the NAcc on partner preference formation previously reported appears to be dissociable from the effects of longer term, developmentally relevant OXTR signaling necessary for modulating alloparental behavior. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that oxytocin can have both long-term "organizational" effects as well as acute "activational" effects on affiliative behaviors.

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