Carter CS. Sex differences in oxytocin and vasopressin: implications for autism spectrum disorders? Behav Brain Res 176: 170-186

The Brain Body Center, Department of Psychiatry, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago 60612, USA.
Behavioural Brain Research (Impact Factor: 3.03). 02/2007; 176(1):170-86. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2006.08.025
Source: PubMed


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are male-biased and characterized by deficits in social behavior and social communication, excessive anxiety or hyperreactivity to stressful experiences, and a tendency toward repetitiveness. The purpose of this review is to consider evidence for a role for two sexually dimorphic neuropeptides, oxytocin (OT) and arginine vasopressin (VP), in these features of ASD. Both VP and OT play a role in normal development. VP is androgen-dependent and of particular importance to male behavior. Excess VP or disruptions in the VP system could contribute to the male vulnerability to ASD. Alternatively, protective processes mediated via OT or the OT receptor might help to explain the relatively rare occurrence of ASD in females. Disruptions in either OT or VP or their receptors could result from genetic variation or epigenetic modifications of gene expression, especially during early development. Deficits in other developmental growth factors, such as reelin, which may in turn regulate or be regulated by OT or VP, are additional candidates for a role in ASD.

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Available from: Carol Sue Carter, Aug 30, 2014
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    • "Some of these differences may relate to neurochemical variation in the brains of males and females. Both oxytocin and vasopressin are important for social behavior, and there are sex differences in the production and release of these neuropeptides, the location and density of their receptors, and their roles in social behavior (Bales and Carter, 2003; Carter, 2007). There are many sex differences in human psychiatric disorders, most notably anxiety and depression, which some argue are based on sex differences in responses to stress (Bangasser and Valentino, 2014). "
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    01/2015; 1(1):116-127. DOI:10.1016/j.ynstr.2014.10.004
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    • "Next section will discuss the possibility of sex differences in NA OXT function in alloparental care. 5. Is there a sex difference in NA OXT function in alloparental care? The literature has strongly suggested the existence of sexual dimorphism in the behavioral effects of OXT and AVP (Carter, 2007; De Vries, 2008; Veenema et al., 2013; Wang et al., 2000 "
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    ABSTRACT: Parental behavior is commonly displayed by progenitors. However, other individuals, genetically related (e.g. siblings, aunts, uncles) or not with the newborns, also display parental behavior (commonly called alloparental, or adoptive behavior). I hypothesize that species that live in family or social groups where other non-reproductive members (males and females) take care of infants, have brain adaptations to promote or facilitate that behavioral response. The present work revises the evidence supporting the hypothesis that high density of oxytocin receptors (OXTR) in the nucleus accumbens (NA) is one of those adaptations. All species known to have high NA OXTR show not only female, but also male alloparental care. Therefore, I predict that high NA OXTR could be present in all species in which juvenile and adult male alloparental behavior have been observed. Strategies to test this and other alternative working hypothesis and its predictions are presented.
    Journal of Physiology-Paris 10/2014; 108(2-3). DOI:10.1016/j.jphysparis.2014.10.002 · 1.90 Impact Factor
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    • "It is important to continue to examine the utility and predictive value of peripheral peptide measures, because until non-invasive technology advances significantly, central measures in living humans are difficult to obtain. Because previous research has shown numerous sex differences in baseline neuropeptide concentrations (Kramer et al., 2002; Miller et al., 2013), regulation by gonadal hormones (Witt et al., 1991; De Vries and Villalba, 1997; Cushing et al., 2003), and sensitivity to exogenous stimulation (Carter, 2003, 2007), we hypothesized that we would find sex-specific associations between plasma OT, AVP, and friendship. As high peripheral levels of OT and AVP have been associated with improved social functioning in the case of children with autism spectrum disorders (Modahl et al., 1998; Green et al., 2001), we specifically predicted that having more friendships (and particularly higher-quality friendships) would be associated with high OT in females and high AVP in males. "
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    ABSTRACT: The neuropeptides oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (AVP) are involved in social bonding in attachment relationships, but their role in friendship is poorly understood. We investigated whether rhesus macaques’ (Macaca mulatta) friendships at age one predicted plasma OT and AVP at two later time points. Subjects were 54 rhesus macaques at the California National Primate Research Center. Blood was drawn during a brief capture-and-release in the home cage, and plasma assayed for OT and AVP using an enzyme immunoassay. Separate linear mixed models for each sex tested the effects of dominance rank, age, sampling time point, housing condition, parturition status, two blood draw timing measures, and five friendship types: proximity friendships, play friendships, reciprocal friendships (a preference for a peer that also preferred the subject), multiplex friendships (friendships displayed in more than one behavioral domain), and total number of friendships. Females’ number of reciprocal and play friendships at age one significantly predicted later OT; additionally, these two friendship types interacted with rank, such that high-ranking females with the fewest friendships had the highest OT concentrations. Friendship did not predict later OT levels in males, however proximity, play, reciprocal, and total number of friendships predicted males’ plasma AVP. Play and total number of friendships also tended to predict AVP in females. Our results show that peripheral measures of neuroendocrine functioning in juvenile rhesus monkeys are influenced by early involvement in friendships. Friendships have an especially strong impact on an individual’s psychosocial development, and our data suggest OT and AVP as potential underlying mechanisms. Moreover, sex differences in the functioning of the OT and AVP systems, and their relation to friendship, may have important clinical implications for the use of OT as a therapeutic, as well as informing the social context in which it is administered.
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