The reward mechanism involved in addiction appears to regulate lifelong social or pair bonds between monogamous mating animals, according to a Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) study of prairie voles published in the January 19 edition of the Journal of Comparative Neurology. The finding could have implications for understanding the basis of romantic love and disorders of the ability to form social attachments, such as autism and schizophrenia.
In their research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Larry Young, PhD., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and an affiliate scientist at Yerkes National Primate Research Center; graduate student Miranda Lim; and Anne Murphy, PhD., associate professor of biology at Georgia State University, examined the distribution of two brain receptors in the ventral forebrain of monogamous prairie voles that have been previously tied to pair bond formation: oxytocin (OTR) and vasopressin V1a receptor (V1aR). Using receptor audiographic techniques, the scientists found that these receptors are confined to two of the brain’s reward centers, the nucleus accumbens and the ventral pallidum. V1aR receptors, which are thought to be activated in the male vole brain during pair bond formation, were confined largely to the ventral pallidum. OTR receptors, which play a crucial role in pair bond formation in females, were found mainly in the nucleus accumbens.
The V1aR and OTR receptors did not overlap between the two brain regions, and were equally distributed in the brains of male and female voles. According to Dr. Young, the findings, coupled with the close proximity of the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum-- two regions with heavily interconnected structures--suggest that a common neural circuit in male and female voles regulates pair bond formation.
The Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, is a research and education consortium consisting of Georgia State University, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the five schools comprising the Atlanta University Center (Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, Morris Brown College, and Spelman College). CBN researchers study four aspects of social behavior: fear, aggression, affiliation, and reproduction.
The Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University is one of eight National Primate Research Centers funded by the National Institutes of Health. The Yerkes Center is a multidisciplinary research institute recognized as a leader in biomedical and behavioral studies with nonhuman primates. Yerkes scientists are on the forefront of developing vaccines for AIDS and malaria, and treatments for cocaine addiction and Parkinson’s disease. Other research programs include cognitive development and decline, childhood visual defects, organ transplantation, the behavioral effects of hormone replacement therapy and social behaviors of primates. Leading researchers located worldwide seek to collaborate with Yerkes scientists.
Poul Olson | EurekAlert!
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