Effect of oxytocin receptor blockade on appetite for sugar is modified by social context

Pawel K. Olszewski, Kerry Allen, Allen S. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Research on oxytocin (OT) has yielded two seemingly unrelated sets of discoveries: OT has prosocial effects, and it elicits termination of feeding, especially of food rich in carbohydrates. Here we investigated whether OT's involvement in food intake is affected by the social context in mice, with particular focus on the role of dominance. We used two approaches: injections and gene expression analysis. We housed two males per cage and determined a dominant one. Then we injected a blood-brain barrier penetrant OT receptor antagonist L-368,899 in either dominant or subordinate animals and gave them 10-min access to a sucrose solution in the apparatus in which social exposure was modified and it ranged from none to unrestricted contact. L-368,899 increased the amount of consumed sugar in dominant mice regardless of whether these animals had access to sucrose in the non-social or social contexts (olfactory-derived or partial social exposure). The antagonist also increased the proportion of time that dominant mice spent drinking the sweet solution in the paradigm in which both mice had to share a single source of sucrose. L-368,899-treated subordinate mice consumed more sucrose solution than saline controls only when the environment in which sugar was presented was devoid of social cues related to the dominant animal. Finally, we investigated whether hypothalamic OT gene expression differs between dominant and subordinate mice consuming sugar and found OT mRNA levels to be higher in dominant mice. We conclude that social context and dominance affect OT's effect on appetite for sucrose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-87
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: This work was supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden grant #UOW1203 . We thank Lucille Briten for technical assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

Copyright 2015 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Food intake
  • Gene expression
  • Oxytocin
  • Social context


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