Journal article

Evidence for a role of oxytocin receptors in the long-term establishment of dominance hierarchies

Exposure to stress can affect the establishment of dominance hierarchies. In our model, a social hierarchy established by two male rats during a first encounter is not maintained 1 week later. If one of the two rats is stressed, the stressed rat becomes subordinate and the hierarchy that is formed is maintained. In this study, we investigated the changes in the expression of oxytocin (Otr) and vasopressin (V1aR) receptor genes in the medial amygdala (MeA) and the lateral septum (LS) in the hours following hierarchy establishment under both stressed and basal conditions. We found that the potentiation of a social hierarchy induced by stress is accompanied by social status- and region-specific changes in the expression of Otr mRNA in the MeA 3 h after the social encounter. At this time point, no evidence was found for the regulation of V1aR mRNA in any of the brain regions examined. Results from pharmacological experiments involving the microinfusion of a specific OTR antagonist immediately after the acquisition of a subordinate status under basal, non-stress conditions suggested a role for this receptor in the MeA on the long-term establishment of the subordinate status. Altogether, these findings highlight a role for the oxytocinergic system in the mechanisms through which stress facilitates the long-term establishment of a social hierarchy.


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