Navigation Links
Study reveals potential role of 'love hormone' oxytocin in brain function

In a loud, crowded restaurant, having the ability to focus on the people and conversation at your own table is critical. Nerve cells in the brain face similar challenges in separating wanted messages from background chatter. A key element in this process appears to be oxytocin, typically known as the love hormone for its role in promoting social and parental bonding.

In a study appearing online August 4 in Nature, NYU Langone Medical Center researchers decipher how oxytocin, acting as a neurohormone in the brain, not only reduces background noise, but more importantly, increases the strength of desired signals. These findings may be relevant to autism, which affects one in 88 children in the United States.

Oxytocin has a remarkable effect on the passage of information through the brain, says Richard W. Tsien, DPhil, the Druckenmiller Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center. It not only quiets background activity, but also increases the accuracy of stimulated impulse firing. Our experiments show how the activity of brain circuits can be sharpened, and hint at how this re-tuning of brain circuits might go awry in conditions like autism.

Children and adults with autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle with recognizing the emotions of others and are easily distracted by extraneous features of their environment. Previous studies have shown that children with autism have lower levels of oxytocin, and mutations in the oxytocin receptor gene predispose people to autism. Recent brain recordings from people with ASD show impairments in the transmission of even simple sensory signals.

The current study built upon 30-year old results from researchers in Geneva, who showed that oxytocin acted in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory and cognition. The hormone stimulated nerve cells called inhibitory interneurons to release a chemical called GABA. This substance dampens the activity of the adjoining excitatory nerve cells, known as pyramidal cells.

From the previous findings, we predicted that oxytocin would dampen brain circuits in all ways, quieting both background noise and wanted signals, Dr. Tsien explains. Instead, we found that oxytocin increased the reliability of stimulated impulses good for brain function, but quite unexpected.

To resolve this paradox, Dr. Tsien and his Stanford graduate student Scott Owen collaborated with Gord Fishell, PhD, the Julius Raynes Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, and NYU graduate student Sebnem Tuncdemir. They identified the particular type of inhibitory interneurons responsible for the effects of oxytocin: fast-spiking inhibitory interneurons.

The mystery of how oxytocin drives these fast-spiking inhibitory cells to fire, yet also increases signaling to pyramidal neurons, was solved through studies with rodent models. The researchers found that continually activating the fast-spiking inhibitory neurons good for lowering background noise also causes their GABA-releasing synapses to fatigue. Accordingly, when a stimulus arrives, the tired synapses release less GABA and excitation of the pyramidal neuron is not dampened as much, so that excitation drives the pyramidal neurons firing more reliably.

The stronger signal and muffled background noise arise from the same fundamental action of oxytocin and give two benefits for the price of one, Dr. Fishell explains. Its too early to say how the lack of oxytocin signaling is involved in the wide diversity of autism-spectrum disorders, and the jury is still out about its possible therapeutic effects. But it is encouraging to find that a naturally occurring neurohormone can enhance brain circuits by dialing up wanted signals while quieting background noise.


Contact: Craig Andrews
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

Related biology news :

1. Study by UC Santa Barbara researchers suggests that bacteria communicate by touch
2. Law that regulates shark fishery is too liberal: UBC study
3. New study will help protect vulnerable birds from impacts of climate change
4. Study jointly led by UCSB researcher supports theory of extraterrestrial impact
5. BYU study: Using a gun in bear encounters doesnt make you safer
6. 15-year study: When it comes to creating wetlands, Mother Nature is in charge
7. Pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark extract) shown to improve menopause symptoms in new study
8. Crystal structure of archael chromatin clarified in new study
9. EU-funded study underlines importance of Congo Basin for global climate and biodiversity
10. University of Houston study shows BP oil spill hurt marshes, but recovery possible
11. Study demonstrates cells can acquire new functions through transcriptional regulatory network
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/13/2015)... 13, 2015 Feedzai , a data ... big data and minimize risk in the financial industry, ... an innovative fraud prevention solution that gives merchants the ... a user,s email address. The two companies will provide ... combines email risk assessment with fraud risk scoring to ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... Dragon Capital Group Corp. (OTC: DRGV), ... China , announced today that its wholly owned subsidiary, ... contract for Multi-Format Naked Eye 3D System for a period ... the project that is expected to be completed in 2015. ... gross profits. --> --> ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... Research and Markets ( ) has announced the ... Market - Estimation & Forecast (2015-2020)" report to ... --> The biometric market value is anticipated to ... in 2020 at an estimated CAGR of 16.47% from ... . Growing digitization in the government sector is expected ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:10/13/2015)... ... October 13, 2015 , ... AxioMx Inc. , a ... received a Phase I Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant (1R43GM112204-01A1). This Phase ... Sciences (NIGMS), will fund the development of a technique to rapidly convert single-chain ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... N.J. and SAN DIEGO ... and Mast Therapeutics, Inc. have agreed to collaborate in ... excipient-grade poloxamer 188 NF, marketed by BASF under the ... in a variety of pharmaceutical and biological applications, such ... 188 is the starting material for Mast,s lead product ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... 13, 2015      Q BioMed ... has entered into a strategic relationship with Wombat Capital, ... Paris, France based strategic and ... --> This collaborative arrangement gives Q BioMed and ... team as well as long established pharmaceutical industry relationships. ...
(Date:10/13/2015)... 2015 TapImmune, Inc. (TPIV), ... innovative peptide and gene-based immunotherapeutics and vaccines for the ... featured presenting company at the Dawson James Small ... in Jupiter, Florida on October ... a clinical-stage immunotherapy company specializing in the development of ...
Breaking Biology Technology: