Neuropeptidergic regulation of affiliative
behavior and social bonding in animals

Lim MM, Young LJ.
Center for Behavioral Neuroscience,
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences,
954 Gatewood Road Yerkes National Primate Research Center,
Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.
Horm Behav. 2006 Aug 3


Social relationships are essential for maintaining human mental health, yet little is known about the brain mechanisms involved in the development and maintenance of social bonds. Animal models are powerful tools for investigating the neurobiological mechanisms regulating the cognitive processes leading to the development of social relationships and for potentially extending our understanding of the human condition. In this review, we discuss the roles of the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin in the regulation of social bonding as well as related social behaviors which culminate in the formation of social relationships in animal models. The formation of social bonds is a hierarchical process involving social motivation and approach, the processing of social stimuli and formation of social memories, and the social attachment itself. Oxytocin and vasopressin have been implicated in each of these processes. Specifically, these peptides facilitate social affiliation and parental nurturing behavior, are essential for social recognition in rodents, and are involved in the formation of selective mother-infant bonds in sheep and pair bonds in monogamous voles. The convergence of evidence from these animal studies makes oxytocin and vasopressin attractive candidates for the neural modulation of human social relationships as well as potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of psychiatric disorders associated with disruptions in social behavior, including autism.
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