A substantial body of research suggests that the neuropeptide oxytocin promotes social affiliative behaviors in a wide range of animals including humans. However, its antiaggressive action has not been unequivocally demonstrated in male laboratory rodents.
Our primary goal was to examine the putative serenic effect of oxytocin in a feral strain (wild type Groningen, WTG) of rats that generally show a much broader variation and higher levels of intermale aggression than commonly used laboratory strains of rats.
Resident animals were intracerebroventricularly (icv) administered with different doses of synthetic oxytocin and oxytocin receptor antagonist, alone and in combination, in order to manipulate brain oxytocin functioning and to assess their behavioral response to an intruder.
Our data clearly demonstrate that acute icv administered oxytocin produces dose-dependent and receptor-selective changes in social behavior, reducing aggression and potentiating social exploration. These antiaggressive effects are stronger in the more offensive rats. On the other hand, administration of an oxytocin receptor antagonist tends to increase (nonsignificantly) aggression only in low-medium aggressive animals.
These results suggest that transiently enhancing brain oxytocin function has potent antiaggressive effects, whereas its attenuation tends to enhance aggressiveness. In addition, a possible inverse relationship between trait aggression and endogenous oxytocinergic signaling is revealed. Overall, this study emphasizes the importance of brain oxytocinergic signaling for regulating intermale offensive aggression. This study supports the suggestion that oxytocin receptor agonists could clinically be useful for curbing heightened aggression seen in a range of neuropsychiatric disorders like antisocial personality disorder, autism, and addiction.