WASHINGTON -- A team of researchers investigating the effects of oxytocin, a peptide produced by the brain that regulates social behavior, has found that it can prevent detrimental cardiac responses in adult female animals exposed to social isolation. The findings may provide further insight into how these mechanisms affect humans.
The study was conducted by Angela J. Grippo, C. Sue Carter and Stephen W. Porges, all with the Department of Psychiatry and Brain-Body Center at University of Illinois at Chicago and is titled Chronic Oxytocin Treatment Mediates Heart Rate Responses Following Social Isolation. Dr. Grippo is presenting the team's findings at the 120th annual meeting of the American Physiological Society (APS; www.The-APS.org), being held as part of the Experimental Biology (EB '07) conference. More than 12,000 scientific researchers will attend the gathering being held April 28-May 2, 2007 at the Washington, DC Convention Center.
The social environment plays an important role in regulating both behavior and cardiovascular function in humans. Negative social interactions, such as loneliness or social isolation, may increase the risk of developing depression and anxiety as well as heart disease.
Prairie voles (ochrogaster) are small rodents that demonstrate features of social interactions similar to humans and therefore provide a useful animal model for investigating how the social environment influences behavior and cardiac function. Earlier studies by this research team showed that when prairie voles were isolated from their families, they displayed behaviors similar to depression and cardiovascular changes indicating a possible increased risk of heart disease (including elevated resting heart rate, reduced heart rate variability, and reduced parasympathetic regulation of the heart).