Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

Behavioral and epigenetic consequences of oxytocin treatment at birth

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Science Advances  01 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaav2244
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav2244


Oxytocin is used in approximately half of all births in the United States during labor induction and/or augmentation. However, the effects of maternal oxytocin administration on offspring development have not been fully characterized. Here, we used the socially monogamous prairie vole to examine the hypothesis that oxytocin exposure at birth can have long-term developmental consequences. Maternally administered oxytocin increased methylation of the oxytocin receptor (Oxtr) in the fetal brain. As adults, oxytocin-exposed voles were more gregarious, with increased alloparental caregiving toward pups and increased close social contact with other adults. Cross-fostering indicated that these effects were the result of direct action on the offspring, rather than indirect effects via postnatal changes in maternal behavior. Male oxytocin-exposed offspring had increased oxytocin receptor density and expression in the brain as adults. These results show that long-term effects of perinatal oxytocin may be mediated by an epigenetic mechanism.

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