Association of vasopressin 1a receptor levels with a regulatory microsatellite and behavior

E. A.D. Hammock, M. M. Lim, H. P. Nair, L. J. Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Vasopressin regulates complex behaviors such as anxiety, parenting, social engagement and attachment and aggression in a species-specific manner. The capacity of vasopressin to modulate these behaviors is thought to depend on the species-specific distribution patterns of vasopressin 1a receptors (V1aRs) in the brain. There is considerable individual variation in the pattern of V1aR binding in the brains of the prairie vole species, Microtus ochrogaster. We hypothesize that this individual variability in V1aR expression levels is associated with individual variation in a polymorphic microsatellite in the 5′ regulatory region of the prairie vole v1ar gene. Additionally, we hypothesize that individual variation in V1aR expression contributes to individual variation in vasopressin-dependent behaviors. To test these hypotheses, we first screened 20 adult male prairie voles for behavioral variation using tests that measure anxiety-related and social behaviors. We then assessed the brains of those animals for V1aR variability with receptor autoradiography and used polymerase chain reaction to genotype the same animals for the length of their 5′ microsatellite polymorphism in the v1ar gene. In this report, we describe the results of this discovery-based experimental approach to identify potential gene, brain and behavior interrelationships. The analysis reveals that V1aR levels, in some but not all brain regions, are associated with microsatellite length and that V1aR levels in those and other brain regions correlate with anxiety-related and social behaviors. These results generate novel hypotheses regarding neural control of anxiety-related and social behaviors and yield insight into potential mechanisms by which non-coding gene polymorphisms may influence behavioral traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-301
Number of pages13
JournalGenes, Brain and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Gene expression pattern
  • Individual differences
  • Microsatellite
  • Molecular evolution
  • Non-coding polymorphism
  • Prairie vole
  • Regulatory VNTR
  • Social behavior
  • Vasopressin 1a receptor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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