2015 Volume 21 Issue 3 Pages 189-195
Oxytocin plays an essential role in milk ejection and parturition in mammals. Oxytocin has also been shown to be involved in the control of various behaviors, including anxiety-related behaviors, food intake and affiliative behaviors.
We previously showed that noxious stimuli or stimuli previously paired with noxious stimuli (conditioned fear stimuli) activate hypothalamic oxytocin neurons via activation of brainstem catecholaminergic/prolactin-releasing peptide (PrRP)-positive neurons. Oxytocin neurons are activated not only by noxious stimuli but also by non-noxious touch stimuli. Social contact has been suggested to activate oxytocin neurons. Non-noxious tactile stimuli induce 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalization, an index of positive states in rats, and activate hypothalamic oxytocin neurons, suggesting that pleasant tactile stimuli activate oxytocin neurons.
Physiological roles of oxytocin released during noxious or non-noxious tactile stimuli remain to be clarified. Noxious stimuli increase anxiety-related behavior, while pleasant sensory stimuli have pro-social actions. We have shown that endogenous oxytocin reduces anxiety-related behaviors, induces a decrease in amounts of food intake per meal, and facilitates social recognition via distinct neural pathways. Roles of oxytocin released during sensory stimuli may be dependent upon the sensory stimuli used, and oxytocin may contribute to the prevention of overreactions to noxious stimuli or mediate pro-social or anxiolytic actions of pleasant tactile stimuli.