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Author Notes:

Correspondence: Larry J. Young, 954 Gatewood Rd., Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322; Phone: 404 727-8272; Fax: 404 727-8070; Email: lyoun03@emory.edu

Acknowledgments: The authors want to thank Hemu Nair for his assistance in statistical analysis, Tig Rainnie for his gift of antibody and technical assistance, and Lorra Mathews for her excellent job managing our vole colony.

Thanks are also due to Jean-Francois Pare and Susan Jenkins for their help with the electron microscopy immunocytochemistry procedures and data collection presented in this manuscript.


Research Funding:

This study was supported by NIH grants MH064692 to LJY, RR00165 to Yerkes National Primates Research Center, NSF STC IBN-9876754 and a collaborative DAAD / NSF grant (IDN, LJY).


  • pair bonding
  • nucleus accumbens
  • paraventricular nucleus
  • supraoptic nucleus
  • neurohypophysial peptides
  • alloparental behavior

Characterization of the Oxytocin System Regulating Affiliative Behavior in Female Prairie Voles


Journal Title:



Volume 162, Number 4


, Pages 892-903

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Oxytocin regulates partner preference formation and alloparental behavior in the socially monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) by activating oxytocin receptors in the nucleus accumbens of females. Mating facilitates partner preference formation, and oxytocin-immunoreactive fibers in the nucleus accumbens have been described in prairie voles. However, there has been no direct evidence of oxytocin release in the nucleus accumbens during sociosexual interactions, and the origin of the oxytocin fibers is unknown. Here we show for the first time that extracellular concentrations of oxytocin are increased in the nucleus accumbens of female prairie vole during unrestricted interactions with a male. We further show that the distribution of oxytocin-immunoreactive fibers in the nucleus accumbens is conserved in prairie voles, mice and rats, despite remarkable species differences in oxytocin receptor binding in the region. Using a combination of site-specific and peripheral infusions of the retrograde tracer, Fluorogold, we demonstrate that the nucleus accumbens oxytocin-immunoreactive fibers likely originate from paraventricular and supraoptic hypothalamic neurons. This distribution of retrogradely labeled neurons is consistent with the hypothesis that striatal oxytocin fibers arise from collaterals of magnocellular neurons of the neurohypophysial system. If correct, this may serve to coordinate peripheral and central release of oxytocin with appropriate behavioral responses associated with reproduction, including pair bonding after mating, and maternal responsiveness following parturition and during lactation.

Copyright information:

© 2009 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

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