(Project 1, Co-PIs: Froemke, Lin, Buzsaki) Oxytocin is a neuropeptide important for social behavior, such as maternal care and pair bonding. It is now believed that direct axonal oxytocin release into various forebrain targets is critical for social behavior, but it remains unclear where and when oxytocin modulation is required to enhance social information processing and regulate maternal behavior. Oxytocin is essential for nursing, but it is unclear what other aspects of maternal behavior by mothers or unrelated co-caring animals depend on the oxytocin system. Oxytocin administration might also be clinically promising, improving outcomes in autism spectrum disorders, social anxiety, and post- partum depression. However, it is imperative to understand the functional anatomy and whole-brain neural circuitry by which oxytocin affects behavioral changes, including when oxytocin might be released, and whether there are differences in oxytocin modulation that depend on gender or social context. Here we will address this critical knowledge gap. Recently, we generated the first specific antibodies to the mouse oxytocin receptor, used these antibodies to determine where these receptors are localized, and examined how oxytocin can enable pup retrieval behavior in maternal mice. Those previous studies provide a robust foundation for the current Project, in which our team aims to understand which target neural circuits are modulated by oxytocin, and if there are behavioral episodes that might be sensitive to oxytocin modulation during brief periods of social interaction. The central hypothesis is that oxytocin is absolutely necessary to initiate maternal behaviors in key areas including auditory cortex and hippocampus, but may be dispensable in experienced mothers. We will perform behavioral, optogenetic, and circuit mapping studies in adult mice to determine where and when oxytocin modulates neural circuits to enhance social information processing and subsequently improve maternal behavior.
In Aim 1 we will build a new behavioral recording system to continuously monitor social interactions for days to weeks.
In Aim 2, we profile oxytocin projections and oxytocin receptor expression throughout the entire adult brain to find potential hotspots of modulation. Finally in Aims 3 and 4, we perform optogenetic loss-of-function and gain-of-function type experiments to determine where and when oxytocin modulation is needed for maternal behavior or at what points might additional oxytocin release accelerate maternal behavior onset or improve steady-state performance. In summary, here we will study the emergence of social interactions and maternal behaviors as they are naturally expressed during multiple animal co-housing, using a new behavioral monitoring systems we will build. We will then use this system to determine when and where oxytocin modulation is required and most effective at promoting pro-social interactions and child care.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Program--Cooperative Agreements (U19)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZNS1)
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
New York University
New York
United States
Zip Code
Eyring, Katherine W; Tsien, Richard W (2018) Direct Visualization of Wide Fusion-Fission Pores and Their Highly Varied Dynamics. Cell 173:819-821