A common allele in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) impacts prosocial temperament and human hypothalamic-limbic structure and function.

H. Tost, B. Kolachana, S. Hakimi, H. Lemaitre, B. A. Verchinski, V. S. Mattay, D. R. Weinberger, A. Meyer-Lindenberg
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2010-07-20; 107(31): 13936-13941
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003296107

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The evolutionarily highly conserved neuropeptide oxytocin is a key mediator of
social and emotional behavior in mammals, including humans. A common variant
(rs53576) in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) has been implicated in
social-behavioral phenotypes, such as maternal sensitivity and empathy, and with
neuropsychiatric disorders associated with social impairment, but the
intermediate neural mechanisms are unknown. Here, we used multimodal neuroimaging
in a large sample of healthy human subjects to identify structural and functional
alterations in OXTR risk allele carriers and their link to temperament.
Activation and interregional coupling of the amygdala during the processing of
emotionally salient social cues was significantly affected by genotype. In
addition, evidence for structural alterations in key oxytocinergic regions
emerged, particularly in the hypothalamus. These neural characteristics predicted
lower levels of reward dependence, specifically in male risk allele carriers. Our
findings identify sex-dependent mechanisms impacting the structure and function
of hypothalamic-limbic circuits that are of potential clinical and translational

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