Oxytocin pathway gene networks in the human brain


Oxytocin is a neuropeptide involved in animal and human reproductive and social behavior. Three oxytocin signaling genes have been frequently implicated in human social behavior: OXT (structural gene for oxytocin), OXTR (oxytocin receptor), and CD38 (oxytocin secretion). Here, we characterized the distribution of OXT, OXTR, and CD38 mRNA across the human brain by creating voxel-by-voxel volumetric expression maps, and identified putative gene pathway interactions by comparing gene expression patterns across 20,737 genes. Expression of the three selected oxytocin pathway genes was enriched in subcortical and olfactory regions and there was high co-expression with several dopaminergic and muscarinic acetylcholine genes, reflecting an anatomical basis for critical gene pathway interactions. fMRI meta-analysis revealed that the oxytocin pathway gene maps correspond with the processing of anticipatory, appetitive, and aversive cognitive states. The oxytocin signaling system may interact with dopaminergic and muscarinic acetylcholine signaling to modulate cognitive state processes involved in complex human behaviors.

Nature Communications