Gene Tweak Makes Monogamous Mates  

VivumFlukyFlute 44M
3 posts
4/14/2005 5:03 am

Last Read:
3/5/2006 9:27 pm

Gene Tweak Makes Monogamous Mates

Promiscuous voles become faithful in experiment that sheds light on romantic love, addiction and possibly fidelity treatments

Relationship therapy: Transferring a single gene into a meadow vole, above, changes its mating habits from swinger to clinger.

Gene therapy can make wayward male meadow voles monogamous, a finding that could shed light on everything from romantic love to addiction, and possibly new fidelity treatments.

The discovery, by researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Atlanta's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience in Georgia, also supports previous research linking social bond formation with drug addiction.

"Our study provides evidence in a comparatively simple animal model that changes in the activity of a single gene profoundly can change a fundamental social behavior of animals within a species," says Yerkes researcher Larry Young.

Hormone-dependent mating

A meadow vole is a small rodent resembling a mouse but with a stouter body, shorter, hairier tail and smaller ears and eyes. The medow vole is promiscuous, frequently mating with multiple partners.

Unlike the meadow vole, prairie voles are social animals and monogamous, often mating for life.
This tendency for faithfulness is attributed to vasopressin, a naturally occurring hormone found in most mammals that regulates social and mating behavior.

Previous studies of monogamous male prairie voles determined that the animals' brains contain high levels of vasopressin receptors in one of the brain's reward regions, the ventral pallidum.
The ventral pallidum is a brain region that regulates addiction and reward.

Gene transfer

For their study, the researchers focused on whether differences in vasopressin receptor levels between prairie and meadow voles could explain their opposite mating behaviors.

Young and colleagues used a harmless virus to transfer the vasopressin receptor gene from prairie voles into the ventral pallidum of meadow voles.

They discovered that the formerly promiscuous meadow voles now displayed a strong preference for their current partners rather than new females.

Relationship receptor?

Previous research suggests that vasopressin receptors also play a role in social bonding disorders such as autism.

"It is intriguing to consider that individual differences in vasopressin receptors in humans might play a role in how differently people form relationships," says Young.

In addition, past research in humans has shown that the same neural pathways involved in forming romantic relationships are involved in drug addiction, says Yerkes researcher Miranda Lim.

"The brain process of bonding with one's partner may be similar to becoming addicted to drugs: Both activate reward circuits in the brain," says Lim.

To gain a better understanding of the evolution of social behavior, the researchers will next try to figure out why there is such widespread variability in behaviors among individuals within a species.

devilnaut 45M
3 posts
4/14/2005 1:32 pm

Profound implications, indeed. This science could really find a home in the treatment of autism, as you mentioned in the blog.
Everyone involved with this study should really run with it.

Become a member to create a blog