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      Oxytocin and love: Myths, metaphors and mysteries

      review-article
      a , b ,
      Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology
      Elsevier
      Oxytocin, Vasopressin, Immune system, Social behavior, Stress, Love

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          Abstract

          Oxytocin is a peptide molecule with a multitude of physiological and behavioral functions. Based on its association with reproduction - including social bonding, sexual behavior, birth and maternal behavior - oxytocin also has been called “the love hormone.” This essay specifically examines association and parallels between oxytocin and love. However, many myths and gaps in knowledge remain concerning both. A few of these are described here and we hypothesize that the potential benefits of both love and oxytocin may be better understood in light of interactions with more ancient systems, including specifically vasopressin and the immune system. Oxytocin is anti-inflammatory and is associated with recently evolved, social solutions to a variety of challenges necessary for mammalian survival and reproduction. The shared functions of oxytocin and love have profound implications for health and longevity, including the prevention and treatment of excess inflammation and related disorders, especially those occurring in early life and during periods of chronic threat or disease.

          Highlights

          • Oxytocin is a peptide molecule with functions that support a sense of safety, sociality, as well as survival and reproduction.

          • Oxytocin is associated with social and neuroimmune solutions to chronic stress.

          • The related, but more primitive, peptide vasopressin supports more individualistic survival strategies.

          • Controversies and myths surround the properties of oxytocin and love.

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          Most cited references152

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          Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span

          Although intermittent increases in inflammation are critical for survival during physical injury and infection, recent research has revealed that certain social, environmental and lifestyle factors can promote systemic chronic inflammation (SCI) that can, in turn, lead to several diseases that collectively represent the leading causes of disability and mortality worldwide, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. In the present Perspective we describe the multi-level mechanisms underlying SCI and several risk factors that promote this health-damaging phenotype, including infections, physical inactivity, poor diet, environmental and industrial toxicants and psychological stress. Furthermore, we suggest potential strategies for advancing the early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of SCI.
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            Social reward requires coordinated activity of accumbens oxytocin and 5HT

            Social behaviors in species as diverse as honey bees and humans promote group survival but often come at some cost to the individual. Although reinforcement of adaptive social interactions is ostensibly required for the evolutionary persistence of these behaviors, the neural mechanisms by which social reward is encoded by the brain are largely unknown. Here we demonstrate that in mice oxytocin (OT) acts as a social reinforcement signal within the nucleus accumbens (NAc) core, where it elicits a presynaptically expressed long-term depression of excitatory synaptic transmission in medium spiny neurons. Although the NAc receives OT receptor-containing inputs from several brain regions, genetic deletion of these receptors specifically from dorsal raphe nucleus, which provides serotonergic (5-HT) innervation to the NAc, abolishes the reinforcing properties of social interaction. Furthermore, OT-induced synaptic plasticity requires activation of NAc 5-HT1b receptors, the blockade of which prevents social reward. These results demonstrate that the rewarding properties of social interaction in mice require the coordinated activity of OT and 5-HT in the NAc, a mechanistic insight with implications for understanding the pathogenesis of social dysfunction in neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism.
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              Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love.

              The purpose of this paper is to review existing behavioral and neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Both love and social attachments function to facilitate reproduction, provide a sense of safety, and reduce anxiety or stress. Because social attachment is an essential component of love, understanding attachment formation is an important step toward identifying the neurobiological substrates of love. Studies of pair bonding in monogamous rodents, such as prairie voles, and maternal attachment in precocial ungulates offer the most accessible animal models for the study of mechanisms underlying selective social attachments and the propensity to develop social bonds. Parental behavior and sexual behavior, even in the absence of selective social behaviors, are associated with the concept of love; the analysis of reproductive behaviors, which is far more extensive than our understanding of social attachment, also suggests neuroendocrine substrates for love. A review of these literatures reveals a recurrent association between high levels of activity in the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis and the subsequent expression of social behaviors and attachments. Positive social behaviors, including social bonds, may reduce HPA axis activity, while in some cases negative social interactions can have the opposite effect. Central neuropeptides, and especially oxytocin and vasopressin have been implicated both in social bonding and in the central control of the HPA axis. In prairie voles, which show clear evidence of pair bonds, oxytocin is capable of increasing positive social behaviors and both oxytocin and social interactions reduce activity in the HPA axis. Social interactions and attachment involve endocrine systems capable of decreasing HPA reactivity and modulating the autonomic nervous system, perhaps accounting for health benefits that are attributed to loving relationships.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Compr Psychoneuroendocrinol
                Compr Psychoneuroendocrinol
                Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology
                Elsevier
                2666-4976
                27 December 2021
                February 2022
                27 December 2021
                : 9
                : 100107
                Affiliations
                [a ]Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA
                [b ]Department of Psychology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA
                Author notes
                []Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. cscarter@ 123456iu.edu
                Article
                S2666-4976(21)00081-3 100107
                10.1016/j.cpnec.2021.100107
                9216351
                35755926
                cb143442-f67a-42d7-a1de-b30775a92678
                © 2021 The Author

                This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

                History
                : 15 December 2021
                : 15 December 2021
                Categories
                Special Issue on Love and Fear

                oxytocin,vasopressin,immune system,social behavior,stress,love
                oxytocin, vasopressin, immune system, social behavior, stress, love

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