Viral gene therapy makes males more faithful and friendly
Vole mates: gene makes males more receptive.
© L. Pitkow et al.
Spells and incantations step aside: scientists have found a genetic elixir of love. It makes males more faithful to females and more friendly to fellow males. It could also shed light on bonding disorders such as autism.
Larry Young of Emory University in Georgia and colleagues used a virus to deliver a gene straight to the part of voles’ brains responsible for rewards and addiction, the ventral pallidum. The gene made the animals’ brains more receptive to the hormone vasopressin1.
"Something about having more vasopressin receptors makes interacting with another individual more rewarding," says Young. The ventral pallidum, at the bottom front of vole and human brains, is believed to reinforce pleasurable experiences.
Male voles were placed in a cage with a female for 17 hours, then caged with that female and another similar female. Gene-treated voles much preferred the known female. Untreated voles, or those given the gene in a different brain region, showed no preference.
This is the first time a virus carrying a gene to the brain has changed a complex behaviour, says Stafford Lightman, a hormone specialist at Bristol University. "It’s quite remarkable, and almost frightening, that you can change bonding behaviour just by changing this one receptor," he says.
Young speculates that a dearth of vasopressin receptors in the ventral pallidum could be a cause of autism, a condition that hampers people from bonding with others. "Problems with this system could be responsible for some of these social deficits," he says.
Addicted to love
Human brain-imaging research has implicated the ventral pallidum in romantic love and in drug addiction. It’s not surprising that the same region might be responsible for both, Young says: "People have always thought of love as an addiction."
Experiments show that animals in cages with striped walls injected with cocaine into their ventral pallidum seek out striped walls. They associate the wall pattern with the euphoria of the drug, Young says.
"Perhaps pair bonding is a similar thing," he suggests. "When a vole mates with a female, vasopressin is released in his brain, which stimulates the ventral pallidum. He gets a reward, and associates it with that female."
Vasopressin may also be associated with anxiety. Voles given the vasopressin receptor gene in the ventral pallidum were more anxious than normal: they ventured out into the open less often.
"This helps explain something we already know: that attachments often happen after a stressful experience," says Sue Carter of the University of Illinois, Chicago, who specializes in rodent and human hormones.
"Hormones released when animals are stressed could pave the way for new relationships," she says. "Animals form social bonds when they need them."
- Pitkow, L. et al. Facilitation of affiliation and pair-bond formation by vasopressin receptor gene transfer into the ventral forebrain of a monogamous vole. Journal of Neuroscience, 21(18), 7392 - 7396, (2001).
ERICA KLARREICH | Nature News Service
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...