The fascinating experiments with oxytocin and prairie voles seem to have uncovered clues to the mysteries of human bonding. Thomas Insel, Larry Young, Sue Carter and others have been able to turn monogamy on and off in these little rodents by injecting oxytocin into certain parts of their brains.
The idea that a peptide in the brain could be the source of the sweetest experience we humans know -- love -- has fired our imaginations and inspired hope among those of us who can't find love.
When we can't connect with others, we feel that there's something wrong with us; we're different from those happy coupled people. Maybe all it would take is a little whiff of oxytocin to carry us into the land of the loving, we think.
Skeptics point out that the human brain and human behavior are far more complex than those of the roly-poly voles. Extrapolating the oxytocin findings to humans is a big stretch, they say.
Yet, animals have been used for decades to study disease and test drugs. Yesterday, at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, a panel on the development of psychotropic drugs said that continued skepticism of results from animal models for certain disorders was one of the factors impeding progress on novel treatments for mental illness.
According to the ACNP press release, Dr. Bryan Roth, Professor of Pharmacology at UNC Chapel Hill and Director of the NIMH Psychoactive Drug Screening Program at the National Institutes of Health, presented results of his analysis of animal studies.
Roth’s investigation also showed that results from research animal models were often discarded, as there remained a high level of skepticism about whether or not animal models are useful in evaluating drug efficacy in psychiatric diseases. Roth was surprised by his own findings: “When reviewing this data, we found that animal models were actually quite good at predicting results in human subjects.”
Also at this conference, Eric Hollander and Jennifer Bartz reported that oxytocin had reduced some of the symptoms of autism in adults. See "Oxytocin Therapy for Autism Gets Closer," and also "A Whiff of Oxytocin for Autism."