Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Vole Love

REUTERS - A single gene inserted into the brain can change promiscuous male rodents into faithful, monogamous partners, scientists said Wednesday. It may not be as easy to rein in human philanderers but researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University and Atlanta's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience said their rodent results could help to explain the neurobiology of romantic love.

"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," said Larry Young a researcher at the university. He and his colleagues, who reported their research in the science journal Nature, used a harmless virus to transfer the gene for a key hormone involved in sexual behavior from monogamous prairie voles into the brains of their randy relatives, the meadow voles.

After the gene transfer, the previously promiscuous meadow voles had less of a roving eye and showed a distinct preference for their current partners. Earlier research had shown that prairie voles, which form life-long partnerships, had higher levels of receptors for the hormone vasopressin in an area of the brain called the ventral pallidum, than meadow voles. Introducing the gene increased the natural levels of the receptor and enhanced the meadow voles' ability to form pair bonds...

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

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