Brain oxytocin correlates with maternal aggression: link to anxiety

Oliver J Bosch, Simone L Meddle, Daniela I Beiderbeck, Alison J Douglas, Inga D Neumann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The oxytocinergic system is critically involved in the regulation of maternal behavior, which includes maternal aggression. Because aggression has been linked to anxiety, we investigated the maternal aggression and the role of brain oxytocin in lactating Wistar rats selectively bred for high anxiety-related behavior (HAB) or low anxiety-related behavior (LAB) during the 10 min maternal defense test. HAB dams displayed more maternal aggression against a virgin intruder compared with LAB dams, resulting in more defensive behavior and higher anxiety of HAB-defeated virgins. The different levels of aggression were accompanied by opposite oxytocin release patterns within the paraventricular nucleus (PVN; HAB, increase; LAB, decrease). Furthermore, oxytocin release was higher within the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) of HAB dams compared with LABs. A direct correlation between the offensive behavior displayed during the maternal defense test and local oxytocin release was found in both the PVN and CeA. Using retrodialysis, blockade of endogenous oxytocin action by infusion of an oxytocin receptor antagonist (des-Gly-NH2,d(CH2)5[Tyr(Me)2,Thr4]OVT) into the PVN or CeA reduced maternal aggression of HAB dams, whereas infusion of synthetic oxytocin into the PVN tended to increase aggression toward the intruder in LAB dams. There were no significant differences in oxytocin receptor mRNA expression or oxytocin receptor binding between lactating HAB and LAB dams. Therefore, differences in intracerebral release patterns of oxytocin, rather than differences at the level of oxytocin receptors, are critical for the regulation of maternal aggressive behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6807-15
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number29
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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