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Does a peptide affect the heart's response to social isolation?

s to social isolation.

The Study: Summary of Methodology

Adult female prairie voles were placed under anesthesia and implanted with wireless, radio frequency transmitters. The animals were subsequently exposed to either social isolation or pairing with a female sibling (control conditions) for four weeks. They were treated with oxytocin or saline (control solution) daily for 14 days during the third and fourth week of the four-week isolation period.

Electrocardiographic parameters (heart rate and heart rhythms) were recorded using the radio frequency transmitter. Following the period of isolation or pairing, all animals were exposed to a mild social stressor (a five minute social interaction test with an unfamiliar animal).

Results

The researchers found that:

  • the animals exposed to isolation had an increase in heart rate and a reduction in heart rate variability. The administration of oxytocin significantly improved both heart rate and heart rate variability;

  • for the animals exposed to isolation, oxytocin significantly reduced the heart rate response following the five-minute resident intruder social interaction test;

  • for the isolated animals, oxytocin significantly improved parasympathetic regulation of the heart; and

  • for the paired prairie voles (control group) oxytocin did not alter the cardiac responses.

Conclusions

These findings suggest that oxytocin can prevent damaging cardiac changes in adult female prairie voles exposed to social isolation. While there are limitations to the study, including the lack of spontaneous puberty and estrous cycles in female prairie voles (unlike their human counterpart), the results serve as a springboard into better understanding the mechanisms that underlie the relations between social behavior and cardiac function in humans.
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Source:American Physiological Society


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