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The neurobiology of pair bonding

Abstract

A neurobiological model for pair-bond formation has emerged from studies in monogamous rodents. The neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin contribute to the processing of social cues necessary for individual recognition. Mesolimbic dopamine is involved in reinforcement and reward learning. Concurrent activation of neuropeptide and dopamine receptors in the reward centers of the brain during mating results in a conditioned partner preference, observed as a pair bond. Differential regulation of neuropeptide receptor expression may explain species differences in the ability to form pair bonds. These and other studies discussed here have intriguing implications for the neurobiology of social attachment in our own species.

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Figure 1: OTR and V1aR regulation of pair bonding in prairie voles.

Ivelisse Robles

Figure 2: Dopamine regulates pair bonding in female prairie voles.
Figure 3: Sagittal view of a prairie vole brain illustrating a proposed neural circuit model for pair bonding.
Figure 4: The molecular genetics of pair bonding.

Ivelisse Robles

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge A.Z. Murphy, E.A.D. Hammock, M.M. Lim, B. Aragona and T. Curtis for discussion and comments during the writing of this manuscript. The authors especially thank C.S. Carter and T.R. Insel for their pioneering work, which laid the foundation for neurobiological studies of social bonding. Much of this work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grants to L.J.Y. and Z.X.W.

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Young, L., Wang, Z. The neurobiology of pair bonding. Nat Neurosci 7, 1048–1054 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1327

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