Oxytocin could be the key to neural plasticity: study

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

December 12, 2022 -- Researchers have learned that the peptide oxytocin could promote the growth of new neurons to repair damaged tissue and thus may contribute to neural circuit plasticity, opening the door to new ways to improve neurological conditions.

The team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital used mouse models and studied the olfactory bulb, a plastic sensory area that can maintain plasticity into adulthood via continuous integration of adult-born neurons (Genes & Development, December 8, 2022).

The researchers found oxytocin levels increased in the olfactory bulb and peaked when the new neurons incorporated themselves into neural networks. Using viral labeling, confocal microscopy, and cell-type-specific RNA sequencing, the scientists learned oxytocin triggers a signaling pathway that promotes the maturation of synapses. When the oxytocin receptor was eliminated, the cells had underdeveloped synapses and impaired function.

Synapse maturation occurs by regulating the morphological development of cells and the expression of a number of structural proteins, the authors said. If it's understood how to turn oxytocin on and off, or how to mobilize it, circuit connections could stay healthy by promoting the growth of underdeveloped connections or strengthening new ones, they added. However, to learn that information, more studies are needed.

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