The general goals of this study are to use neuroimaging methods to measure possible changes during development and in adulthood as a function of differential birth interventions. The neuroimaging studies proposed in Project II will examine different potential mechanisms and behavioral outcomes following exposure to synthetic oxytocin (sOT) or blocking the OT receptor with an oxytocin antagonist (OTA) during birth in prairie voles. The prairie vole has been chosen as the animal model because it has a human-like autonomic nervous system, a social system characterized by high levels of sociality, long lasting pair bonds, high levels of paternal care and high levels of endogenous OT (eOT) - in the range of those measured in humans. (For details of the model see Overview and Project I). The following specific aims and questions will be addressed. Does exposure to synthetic OT (or alternatively blocking the OT receptor) at birth alter functional connectivity? Functional magnetic innaging in awake voles will be combined with independent component analysis to identify differences in resting state networks in control and experimental groups. Do manipulations including exposure to sOT or OTA at birth alter white matter tracts and fiber microstructure? Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and quantitative anisotropy will be used to identify areas of the brain showing changes in white matter fiber tracts and fiber microstructure between control and experimental groups. Does exposure to synthetic OT or an OT antagonist at birth affect brain activity related to perception, cognition and emotion? Imaging in awake voles will be used to identify differences in integrated neural networks functioning in: a) motivation/reward, b) anxiety/fear, and c) social recognition, as a function of birth-related interventions. These studies will be conducted and analyzed in the context of behavior, endocrine, autonomic and epigenetic measures taken in the Projects I and III.

Public Health Relevance

The long-term neurobiological consequences of synthetic oxytocin during birth interventions on the baby are unknown. These MR imaging studies will examine potential changes in neuronal organization and function caused by early exposure to high oxytocin.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Program Projects (P01)
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Northeastern University
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Kenkel, William M; Carter, C Sue (2016) Voluntary exercise facilitates pair-bonding in male prairie voles. Behav Brain Res 296:326-30
Yee, J R; Kenkel, W M; Kulkarni, P et al. (2016) BOLD fMRI in awake prairie voles: A platform for translational social and affective neuroscience. Neuroimage 138:221-32
Madularu, Dan; Yee, Jason R; Kenkel, William M et al. (2015) Integration of neural networks activated by amphetamine in females with different estrogen levels: a functional imaging study in awake rats. Psychoneuroendocrinology 56:200-12
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