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Letters to Nature
Nature 365, 545 - 548 (07 October 1993); doi:10.1038/365545a0

A role for central vasopressin in pair bonding in monogamous prairie voles

James T. Winslow*, Nick Hastings, C. Sue Carter, Carroll R. Harbaugh* & Thomas R. Insel*

*Laboratory of Neurophysiology, National Institute of Mental Health, PO Box 608, Poolesville, Maryland 20837, USA
Department of Zoology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA
To whom correspondence should be addressed

MONOGAMOUS social organization is characterized by selective affiliation with a partner, high levels of paternal behaviour and, in many species, intense aggression towards strangers for defence of territory, nest and mate1,2. Although much has been written about the evolutionary causes of monogamy, little is known about the proximate mechanisms for pair bonding in monogamous mammals2,3. The prairie vole, Microtus ochrogaster, is a monogamous, biparental rodent which exhibits long-term pair bonds characterized by selective affiliation (partner preference) and aggression4,5. Here we describe the rapid development of both selective aggression and partner preferences following mating in the male of this species. We hypothesized that either argininevasopressin (AVP) or oxytocin (OT), two nine-amino-acid neuropeptides with diverse forebrain projections, could mediate the development of selective aggression and affiliation. This hypothesis was based on the following observations: (1) monogamous and polygamous voles differ specifically in the distribution of forebrain AVP and OT receptors6,7; (2) AVP innervation in the prairie vole brain is sexually dimorphic and important for paternal behaviour8; (3) central AVP pathways have been previously implicated in territorial displays and social memory9,10; and (4) central OT pathways have been previously implicated in affiliative behaviours11. We now demonstrate that central AVP is both necessary and sufficient for selective aggression and partner preference formation, two critical features of pair bonding in the monogamous prairie vole.

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