'Love hormone' boosts pleasure of social interactions — study

October 28, 2015 5:45 am 

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 — The hormone oxytocin, dubbed the "love hormone," may boost the pleasure of social interactions by stimulating production of marijuana-like chemicals in the brain, a US study said Monday.

The study, published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided the first link between oxytocin and anandamide, which has been called the "bliss molecule" for its role in activating cannabinoid receptors in brain cells to heighten motivation and happiness, in a way similar to marijuana's active ingredient, THC.

The research, conducted in mice that had been either isolated or allowed to interact, showed that social contact increased production of anandamide in a brain structure called the nucleus accumbens, which triggered cannabinoid receptors there to reinforce the pleasure of socialization.

When cannabinoid receptors were blocked, this reinforcement disappeared.

Then, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, looked for a possible connection between anandamide and oxytocin, which is well known for its role in promoting social contact.

When the researchers stimulated neurons that make oxytocin in the brain, they saw an increase in anandamide creation in the nucleus accumbens.

More importantly, they found that blocking anandamide's effects also blocked the pro-social effects of oxytocin, which implies that oxytocin reinforces social ties by inducing anandamide formation.

The team also showed that mice treated with a drug that stops anandamide degradation behaved as though they enjoyed spending time with their cage mates more than those treated with a placebo,

Oxytocin has also been called the hug hormone, cuddle chemical and moral molecule due to its effects on behavior, including its role in love and female reproductive functions.

A 2011 study by Dutch scientists revealed that oxytocin makes people feel more extroverted, and clinical researchers are investigating it as a possible treatment for the symptoms of autism.

But it's very hard to deliver oxytocin, a small protein, to the human brain.

"Our findings open the exciting possibility that drugs that block the degradation of anandamide, which are currently being tested for various anxiety disorders, could give a boost to the brain's own oxytocin and help people with autism socialize more," Daniele Piomelli of the university, who led the study, said in a statement. (PNA/Xinhua)



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