A recent study reconsiders the role of the "love hormone"
Oxytocin is known as the "love hormone" for its key role in romantic relationships between couples and in the care mothers provide to their children, but a recent study of prairie mice re-examined its role.
The study showed that despite the removal of the receptors associated with this hormone, the prairie mice were still able to establish strong relationships as pairs, as well as the females continuing to carry and care for their young.
Mice are one of the rare mammalian species whose paired bonds last a lifetime, which makes them very suitable for studies of similar topics.
In previous studies, the rats, after being given a drug that stopped the secretion of the hormone oxytocin, became lonely, while the females were unable to produce milk for their young.
Psychiatrist Devanand Manoli and neurobiologist Nirau Shah worked differently in this study, creating genetically engineered wild rats in a way that deprives them of the presence of oxytocin receptors in their bodies.
The result came as a surprise to them, as the genetically modified mice did not face any problem in mating with other mice of the same type that had not undergone any modification, while the modified female mice had no difficulty in caring for their young.
The test result was taken as an indication that oxytocin is not the primary or sole driver of feelings associated with forming pairs or the care mothers provide to their children.
"Genetics has proven that there is no single point of disruption for behaviors that are absolutely essential to the survival of a species," Devanand Manoli, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told AFP.
On the other hand, the research proved that depriving one of the two partners from oxytocin receptors recorded negative effects, according to the study, which was published, Friday, in the scientific journal "Neuron"
Genetically modified male mice that were mated to unmodified females did not exhibit the violence that would normally be recorded when encountering other females.
And while the transgenic females were able to produce and care for pups, some of them produced fewer pups, and fewer of them survived, compared to the pups of the unmodified female mice.
In addition, the pups of the modified females weighed less than the pups of the unmodified rats, indicating that the mothers who had undergone genetic modification did not have healthy enough pregnancies.
The researchers pointed out that the experiment included only pairs with one limb modified and the other with a "wild" type, explaining that pairs consisting of exclusively modified mice could provide different results.
In any case, the study showed that the hormone oxytocin has a different role in various behaviors.
Animals that grew up without oxytocin receptors may have developed "other compensatory ways" that helped them mate and help their young develop, says Shah, a professor at Stanford University.
The study indicated that oxytocin is only one of the genetic factors that control social behavior.
"I think our study shows that there are many ways that these very complex behaviors are regulated," Manoli said.
Oxytocin has been used in some cases to treat attachment disorders and other neurological and psychological conditions, but scientific information regarding its effectiveness is still limited.
Shah and Manoli said they hoped to find additional information about hormones and other receptors that play a role in mating and mother-to-child care.
"These other methods may be used as new therapeutic targets," Manoli stressed.
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