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Oxytocin and same-sex social behavior in female meadow voles

Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2010.05.023
  • Oxytocin Receptors
  • Dopamine
  • Estradiol
  • Partner Preference
  • Affiliation
  • Sociality


Abstract The neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) has been implicated in a range of mammalian reproductive and social behaviors including parent-offspring bonding and partner preference formation between socially monogamous mates. Its role in mediating non-reproductive social relationships in rodents, however, remains largely unexplored. We examined whether OT facilitates same-sex social preferences between female meadow voles—a species that forms social nesting groups in short, winter-like day lengths. In contrast to results from studies of opposite-sex attachment between prairie vole mates, we found that neither OT nor dopamine neurotransmission was required for baseline levels of social partner preference formation or expression. OT enhanced preference formation beyond baseline levels—an effect that was counteracted by treatment with an oxytocin receptor antagonist (OTA). Oxytocin receptor (OTR) density correlated with social behavior in brain regions not known to be associated with opposite-sex affiliation, including the lateral septum and central amygdala. In addition, voles housed in short day lengths (SD) exhibited higher levels of OTR binding in the central amygdala, and voles exposed to high concentrations of estradiol exhibited less binding in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and increased binding in the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus. These results suggest that same-sex social behavior shares common elements with other mammalian social behaviors affected by OT, but that the specific neural pathways through which OT exerts its influence are likely distinct from those known for sexual attachments.

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