CNS region-specific oxytocin receptor expression: Importance in regulation of anxiety and sex behavior

Tracy L. Bale, Aline M. Davis, Anthony P. Auger, Daniel M. Dorsa, Margaret M. McCarthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

344 Scopus citations


The oxytocin receptor (OTR) is differentially expressed in the CNS. Because there are multiple mechanisms by which the OTR can be transcriptionally induced, we hypothesized that differences in OTR expression may be explained by activation of distinct signal transduction pathways and may be critical for the control of anxiety and sex behaviors. To determine the regulation and functional significance of this expression, we infused female rats with modifiers of protein kinases before assaying for behavior and oxytocin receptor binding. In the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMH), estrogen-dependent induction of oxytocin receptors required protein kinase C activation, and oxytocin infused here promoted female sex behavior but had no effect on anxiety. In contrast, dopamine controlled tonic oxytocin receptor expression in the central nucleus of the amygdala (cAmyg) through activation of protein kinase A, and oxytocin infused here was anxiolytic but had no effect on female sex behavior. Therefore, we have identified brain region-specific regulation of the OTR in the VMH and cAmyg. Distinct signal transduction pathways regulating receptor expression and binding in each brain region may mediate in part the ability of oxytocin to exert these differential behavioral effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2546-2552
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Amygdala
  • Anxiety
  • Heterologous expression
  • Hypothalamus
  • Lordosis
  • Oxytocin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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