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Sex differences and developmental effects of oxytocin on aggression and social behavior in prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster).

  • Author(s): Bales, Karen L
  • Carter, C Sue
  • et al.
Abstract

Various hormones, including sex steroids and neuropeptides, have been implicated in aggression. In this study we examined (1) sex differences in intrasexual aggression in naïve prairie voles; (2) the effects of developmental manipulations of oxytocin on intrasexual aggression; and (3) changes in patterns of intrasexual aggression after brief exposure to an animal of the opposite sex. Within 24 h of birth, infants were randomly assigned to receive either an injection of oxytocin (OT) or oxytocin antagonist (OTA) or to one of two control (CTL) groups receiving either isotonic saline or handling without injection. As adults, animals were tested twice in a neutral arena; before (Test 1) and 24 h after (Test 2) a 4-h exposure to an animal of the opposite sex. In Test 1, CTL males were more likely to show aggressive and less likely to show social behavior than CTL females. No significant treatment differences were observed within either sex in Test 1. In Test 2, after brief exposure to a male, females treated with OT became more aggressive and less social than OTA or CTL females. Male aggressive behavior did not change after exposure to a female. An increase in aggression and decline in social behavior toward other females, seen here in OT-treated females, is typically observed only following several days of female-male cohabitation. These findings demonstrate a sex difference in intrasexual aggression and suggest that neonatal exposure to OT may facilitate the onset of the mate-guarding component of pair bonding in female prairie voles.

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