Mom Genes: Biologists Link Oxytocin to Maternal Instincts in Mice

LSU researchers have isolated oxytocin receptor cells in female mice that give us new understanding of maternal behavior.
Dana  Miller
Oxytocin has been directly linked not just to postpartum depression, but to the maternal instinct itself.Gogosvm/ iStock

Parenting is never easy, nor even natural to some parties. If you have ever wondered why your friends were all baby-crazy and you were bored by the very notion of children, Lousiana State University may have found your highly chemical answer. 

Adding to its already established persona as the "love hormone" amongst biologists, current LSU research reveals oxytocin to also perhaps qualify as the "mom hormone." In a clinical study that attempted to identify the differences in male and female oxytocin systems in mice, LSU biologists led by associate professor Ryoichi Teruyama, found oxytocin receptor cells of a particular nature in female mouse brains but not in the brains of male mice. 

What does oxytocin have to do with maternalism?

When in the presence of estrogen, these oxytocin receptors reside in the portion of the brain long thought to be in governance of inducing maternal behavior. These findings coincide with an array of other recent studies that connect postpartum depression to a retailored articulation of oxytocin receptors. 


In shedding new light on how to target oxytocin receptors, development of therapies surrounding postpartum depression, a harsh phenomenon experienced by up to 20 percent of new mothers, may benefit greatly from the information found in this study.

Watch this video to learn more about ways in which the human brain changes during the perinatal period.

Why you should care even if you do not want kids

The importance of this study for people who have elected not to have children may be even more vital as oxytocin receptor research already gives invaluable insight into a wide range of social and cognitive issues. Autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are all thought to be intrinsically connected to oxytocin.

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Oxytocin receptors have been found to increase trust and reduce cortisol in human beings. All forms of stress in human beings are contingent on cortisol levels, so this science inevitably leads directly to a better quality of life for us all. 

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