The Challenge of Translation in Social Neuroscience: A Review of Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Affiliative Behavior

National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
Neuron (Impact Factor: 15.05). 03/2010; 65(6):768-79. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.03.005
Source: PubMed


Social neuroscience is rapidly exploring the complex territory between perception and action where recognition, value, and meaning are instantiated. This review follows the trail of research on oxytocin and vasopressin as an exemplar of one path for exploring the "dark matter" of social neuroscience. Studies across vertebrate species suggest that these neuropeptides are important for social cognition, with gender- and steroid-dependent effects. Comparative research in voles yields a model based on interspecies and intraspecies variation of the geography of oxytocin receptors and vasopressin V1a receptors in the forebrain. Highly affiliative species have receptors in brain circuits related to reward or reinforcement. The neuroanatomical distribution of these receptors may be guided by variations in the regulatory regions of their respective genes. This review describes the promises and problems of extrapolating these findings to human social cognition, with specific reference to the social deficits of autism.

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Available from: Thomas R Insel, Jun 04, 2015
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    • "The prefrontal cortex seems to be less activated in persons with autism during cognitive tasks (Silk et al., 2006), with its role known to be critical for executive function skills. Finally, the pituitary secretion of hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin—well known to underlie social behaviors (Crawley et al., 2007; Insel, 2010)—has been reported to be impaired in ASDs, contributing to the condition (Chamberlain & Herman, 1990). "
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    • "Although prior research has shown that AVP influences social behavior, which in theory could influence life history traits such as growth rates and maximum longevity (though Kamilar et al., 2010 did not find a positive relationship between sociality and longevity in mammals), neuropeptide receptors have a stronger connection to behavior, not the hormone levels themselves (Insel, 2010). In addition, much of our knowledge of AVP and social behavior comes from studies examining a small number of rodent species (Winslow et al., 1993; Wang et al., 1996), and generalizing these findings to most mammal species is problematic (Insel, 2010). "
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    • "If we are distressed, the care, kindness, and support of others we like or love helps to calm us down. Considerable research now points to important hormones such as oxytocin, playing crucial roles in the soothing qualities of social relationships (Insel, 2010; Uvnäs Moberg, 2013). In addition, the myelinated parasympathetic vagal nervous system plays a major role in the experience of contentment, slowing, peacefulness, and safeness, especially as created through caring relationships (Porges, 2007). "
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