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