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Neuroscience. 2013 Aug 6;244:122-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.03.035. Epub 2013 Mar 26.

Neuroanatomical distribution of μ-opioid receptor mRNA and binding in monogamous prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) and non-monogamous meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus).

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Center for Translational Social Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, 954 Gatewood Road, Atlanta, GA 30329, United States.


The opiate system has long been implicated in the rewarding properties of social interactions. In particular, the μ-opioid receptor (MOR) mediates multiple forms of social attachment, including the attachment of offspring to the mother and social bonding between mates. We have previously shown that MOR in the caudate-putamen is involved in partner preference formation in monogamous prairie voles. Here, using in situ hybridization and receptor autoradiography, we mapped in detail the distribution of MOR mRNA and ligand binding in monogamous prairie vole brains and compared MOR binding density with that of promiscuous meadow vole brains. Comparison of MOR binding in these closely related species with distinctly different social behavior revealed that while the distribution of MOR is similar, prairie voles have significantly higher densities of MOR than meadow voles in a majority of regions in the forebrain, including the caudate-putamen, nucleus accumbens shell, lateral septum and several thalamic nuclei, including the anteroventral and anteromedial thalamic nuclei. These differences in MOR expression between prairie and meadow voles could potentially contribute to species differences in behavior, including social attachment.

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