Cellular mechanisms of social attachment

Larry J. Young, Miranda M. Lim, Brenden Gingrich, Thomas R. Insel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

358 Scopus citations


Pharmacological studies in prairie voles have suggested that the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin play important roles in behaviors associated with monogamy, including affiliation, paternal care, and pair bonding. Our laboratory has investigated the cellular and neuroendocrine mechanisms by which these peptides influence affiliative behavior and social attachment in prairie voles. Monogamous prairie voles have a higher density of oxytocin receptors in the nucleus accumbens than do nonmonogamous vole species; blockade of these receptors by site-specific injection of antagonist in the female prairie vole prevents partner preference formation. Prairie voles also have a higher density of vasopressin receptors in the ventral pallidal area, which is the major output of the nucleus accumbens, than montane voles. Both the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum are key relay nuclei in the brain circuits implicated in reward, such as the mesolimbic dopamine and opioid systems. Therefore, we hypothesize that oxytocin and vasopressin may be facilitating affiliation and social attachment in monogamous species by modulating these reward pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-138
Number of pages6
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Affiliation
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Oxytocin
  • Prairie voles
  • V1a receptor
  • Vasopressin
  • Ventral pallidum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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