Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Newly Discovered Brain Cells Explain a Prosocial Effect of Oxytocin

10.10.2014

Oxytocin, the body’s natural love potion, helps couples fall in love, makes mothers bond with their babies, and encourages teams to work together. Now new research at Rockefeller University reveals a mechanism by which this prosocial hormone has its effect on interactions between the sexes, at least in certain situations. The key, it turns out, is a newly discovered class of brain cells.

“By identifying a new population of neurons activated by oxytocin, we have uncovered one way this chemical signal influences interactions between male and female mice,” says Nathaniel Heintz, James and Marilyn Simons Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology.


Neurons of love: A newly discovered type of brain cell responds to oxytocin and so regulates female mice’s interest in males, but only when the females are in heat. These star-shaped neurons (above) are shown within a brain region called the medial prefrontal cortex.

The findings, published today in Cell (October 9), had their beginnings in a search for a new type of interneuron, a specialized neuron that relays messages to other neurons across relatively short distances. As part of her doctoral thesis, Miho Nakajima began creating profiles of the genes expressed in interneurons using a technique known as translating ribosome affinity purification (TRAP) previously developed by the Heintz lab and Paul Greengard’s Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at Rockefeller. Within some profiles from the outer layer of the brain known as the cortex, she saw an intriguing protein: a receptor that responds to oxytocin.

“This raised the question: What is this small, scattered population of interneurons doing in response to this important signal, oxytocin?” Nakajima says. “Because oxytocin is most involved in social behaviors of females, we decided to focus our experiments on females.”

To determine how these neurons, dubbed oxytocin receptor interneurons or OxtrINs, affected behavior when activated by oxytocin, she silenced only this class of interneurons and, in separate experiments, blocked the receptor’s ability to detect oxytocin in some females. She then gave them a commonly used social behavior test: Given the choice between exploring a room with a male mouse or a room with an inanimate object – in this case a plastic Lego block – what would they do?

Generally, a female mouse will go for the non-stackable choice. Legos just aren’t that interesting to rodents. But Nakajima’s results were confusing: Sometimes the mice with the silenced OxtrINs showed an abnormally high interest in the Lego, and sometimes they responded normally.

This led her to suspect the influence of the female reproductive cycle. In another round of experiments, she recorded whether the female mice were in estrus, the sexually receptive phase, or diestrus, a period of sexual inactivity. Estrus, it turned out, was key. Female mice in this phase showed an unusual lack of interest in the males when their receptors were inactivated. They mostly just sniffed at the Lego. There was no effect on mice is diestrus, and there was no effect if the male love interest was replaced with a female. When Nakajima tried the same alteration in males, there was also no effect.

“In general, OxtrINs appear to sit silently when not exposed to oxytocin,” says Andreas Görlich, a postdoc in the lab who recorded the electrical activity of these neurons with and without the hormone. “The interesting part is that when exposed to oxytocin these neurons fire more frequently in female mice than they do in male mice, possibly reflecting the differences that showed up in the behavioral tests.”

“We don’t yet understand how, but we think oxytocin prompts mice in estrus to become interested in investigating their potential mates,” Nakajima says. “This suggests that the social computation going on in a female mouse’s brain differs depending on the stage of her reproductive cycle.”

Oxytocin has similar effects for humans as for mice, however, it is not yet clear if the hormone influences the human version of this mouse interaction, or if it works through a similar population of interneurons. The results do, however, help explain how humans, mice and other mammals respond to changing social situations, Heintz says.

“Oxytocin responses have been studied in many parts of the brain, and it is clear that it, or other hormones like it, can impact behavior in different ways, in different contexts and in response to different physiological cues,” he says. “In a general sense, this new research helps explain why social behavior depends on context as well as physiology.”

Contact Information

Zach Veilleux
212-327-8982
newswire@rockefeller.edu

Zach Veilleux | newswise

Further reports about: BRAIN Cells Lego Molecular Oxytocin Rockefeller female mice hormone interesting neurons receptor social behavior

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht What happens in the cell nucleus after fertilization
06.12.2016 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Speed data for the brain’s navigation system

06.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

What happens in the cell nucleus after fertilization

06.12.2016 | Life Sciences

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>