Oxytocin facilitates fidelity in marmosets
Marmosets are one of the few primate species (other than humans) in which males and females form and maintain long-term social relationships, otherwise known as 'pair-bonds.' These relationships in marmosets, like human romantic relationships, are characterized by marmoset couples spending lots of time together doing similar activities, and showing high levels of affiliative and sexual behavior with their long-term partner. In addition, marmoset couples tend to avoid interactions with opposite-sex strangers, which also is important for maintaining fidelity among couples. Cavanaugh tested whether the neuropeptide oxytocin, a hormone known to promote social behavior, affected the nature of the social and sexual relationship in marmoset couples. Marmosets were given either an intranasal 'spritz' of oxytocin, or a saline spray, and then given an opportunity to interact with their long-term pairmate or an opposite-sex stranger. Oxytocin treatment did not change the relationship between existing marmoset couples, and marmosets spent the same amount of time nearby or in contact with their partner, and similar rates of courtship and sexual behavior whether treated with oxytocin or saline. However, while marmosets (maybe like human beings!) show some level of interest in attractive strangers of the opposite sex, treatment with oxytocin reduced the time spent 'checking out' these strangers, and delayed the expression of sexual solicitation behaviors that constitute the marmoset equivalent of 'flirting' with strangers. These results show that oxytocin plays a role in promoting marmoset pair-bonds, not by making partners 'love' each other more, but rather by decreasing interest in interactions with opposite-sex strangers. Thus, oxytocin does appear to play a role in marmoset monogamy, by decreasing the potential that a marmoset may stray from its long-term partner. The results also highlight that there are at least two mechanisms for maintaining social and sexual fidelity with a long-term partner: attraction TO the partner, and avoidance OF interactions with potential strangers of the opposite sex. In marmosets, oxytocin appears to affect the second mechanism, which nevertheless leads to good marmoset couples. This research was supported by funds from the National Institutes of Health (HD42882) awarded to Jeff French and UNO's Graduate Research and Creative Activity (GRACA) awarded to Jon Cavanaugh.
An abstract of the paper can be found here: http://tiny.cc/marmoset_couples
Contact: Jon Cavanaugh – email@example.com
The study of the biological basis of behavior is one of the most rapidly growing
areas of life sciences, reflecting the importance of the fundamental and applied interest in how neurons work on an individual basis, and how collections of neurons mediate behavior and cognition.
The College of Arts and Sciences at UNO has established the first undergraduate neuroscience degree program in the Nebraska system to educate students bound for graduate programs in neuroscience as well as various careers in the health or health-related fields.
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