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Jon Cavanaugh, a student in the Neuroscience and Behavior PhD program at UNO, was recently the lead author on a paper that will be published in the November 2014 issue of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology (Impact Factor: 5.6). Co-authors include Aaryn Mustoe and Jack Taylor, also students in the PhD program, and Dr. Jeffrey French, Varner Professor of Psychology and Biology and Director of UNO's Neuroscience Program

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 – jonryancavanaug@unomaha.edu

Feature Archive

Neuroscience

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.

Students working toward completion of this degree will benefit from the expertise of existing faculty in the UNO departments of Biology and Psychology along one of two tracks:  Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience or Integrative Behavioral Science.

An undergraduate major in neuroscience will place students in the position of
moving into one of multiple career trajectories upon completion of the degree.

First, graduates of the program will be in an excellent position to immediately and successfully be recruited by one of the more than 200 graduate programs in neuroscience and related areas, and pursue advanced degrees. These opportunities include working with faculty at UNMC’s growing training programs and opportunities.  The newly established Department of Pharmacology and Experimental  Neuroscience at UNMC brings together experts in neuropharmacology with those with expertise in neurodegenerative diseases, and new and exciting graduate programs are likely to emerge from this new department. Neuroscience and related disciplines constitute among the best funded and active programs at UNMC. The Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Disorders (CNND) and the associated Neuroscience Research Training Program (NRTP) at UNMC constitute an important employment and training outlet for graduates of an undergraduate neuroscience major.

Second, graduates from either of the proposed neuroscience tracks would have most or all of the required courses for admission to medical schools, veterinary programs, and a host of other health-related professional programs.

Third, graduates of the neuroscience major will possess intellectual and methodological skill-sets that will make them highly attractive for laboratory technicians and assistants in local, regional, and national university and medical school laboratories.

Fourth, the growing emphasis on pharmaceutical agents that affect psychological function is driving employment in corporate pharmaceutical firms, for which graduates of the neuroscience major would be competitive.

Finally, students will emerge from the major with the ability to think across disciplines, to formulate questions and seek answers, to interpret data and draw conclusions, and to effectively communicate the outcome of these processes to a target audience. This suite of skills will make neuroscience majors eligible for a variety of career opportunities that are outside of the discipline of neuroscience.