Oxytocin, a neurohypophysial hormone secreted after exposure to social interaction or sexual behaviors, has a profound role in the formation of social bonding and regulation of emotional distress. While the acute effect of oxytocin was usually studied, relatively scarce evidence showed the behavioral consequence of repeated oxytocin treatment. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the effect of repeated oxytocin treatment on hippocampal cell proliferation, dendritic maturation of new born neurons and social/emotional behaviors. Adult male Sprague–Dawley rats received treatment with either vehicle or oxytocin (1 mg/kg) daily for two weeks. Behavioral tests revealed that oxytocin increased social behaviors and reduced the anxiety- and depression-like behaviors. Cell proliferation, differentiation and the dendritic complexity of new born neurons in the hippocampus were promoted by oxytocin treatment. Depression- and anxiety-like behaviors were induced by repeated treatment of corticosterone (40 mg/kg) for two weeks while oxytocin treatment reversed the behavioral disturbances. Suppression of cell proliferation caused by corticosterone was reverted by oxytocin treatment in which cell proliferation, cell differentiation, and dendritic complexity increased. The present findings reveal that oxytocin not only enhances cell proliferation, but also promotes the development of the new neurons which is associated with the induction of positive emotional and social behaviors. The results also suggest that oxytocin may be a potential therapeutic agent for treatment of emotional and social dysfunction.
- anxiety-like behaviors
- dendritic complexity
- depression-like behaviors
- hippocampal cell proliferation