Chronic intranasal oxytocin causes long-term impairments in partner preference formation in male prairie voles

Karen L. Bales, Allison M. Perkeybile, Olivia G. Conley, Meredith H. Lee, Caleigh D. Guoynes, Griffin M. Downing, Catherine R. Yun, Marjorie Solomon, Suma Jacob, Sally P. Mendoza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


Background: Oxytocin (OT) is a hormone shown to be involved in social bonding in animal models. Intranasal OT is currently in clinical trials for use in disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. We examined long-term effects of intranasal OT given developmentally in the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), a socially monogamous rodent, often used as an animal model to screen drugs that have therapeutic potential for social disorders. Methods: We treated voles with one of three dosages of intranasal OT, or saline, from day 21 (weaning) through day 42 (sexual maturity). We examined both social behavior immediately following administration, as well as long-term changes in social and anxiety behavior after treatment ceased. Group sizes varied from 8 to 15 voles (n = 89 voles total). Results: Treatment with OT resulted in acute increases in social behavior in male voles with familiar partners, as seen in humans. However, long-term developmental treatment with low doses of intranasal OT resulted in a deficit in partner preference behavior (a reduction of contact with a familiar opposite-sex partner, used to index pair-bond formation) by male voles. Conclusions: Long-term developmental treatment with OT may show results different to those predicted by short-term studies, as well as significant sex differences and dosage effects. Further animal study is crucial to determining safe and effective strategies for use of chronic intranasal OT, especially during development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-188
Number of pages9
JournalBiological psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the University of California, Davis, and by National Institutes of Health Grants HD071998 and HD060117.


  • Autism
  • intranasal
  • oxytocin
  • schizophrenia
  • social behavior
  • vasopressin


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