The crf system and social behavior: A review

Caroline M. Hostetler, Andrey E. Ryabinin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


The corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) system plays a key role in a diversity of behaviors accompanying stress, anxiety and depression. There is also substantial research on relationships between social behaviors and the CRF system in a variety of taxa including fish, birds, rodents, and primates. Some of these relationships are due to the broad role of CRF and urocortins in stress and anxiety, but these peptides also modulate social behavior specifically. For example, the social interaction (SI) test is often used to measure anxiety-like behavior. Many components of the CRF system including CRF, urocortin1, and the R1 receptor have been implicated in SI, via general effects on anxiety as well as specific effects depending on the brain region. The CRF system is also highly responsive to chronic social stressors such as social defeat and isolation. Animals exposed to these stressors display a number of anxiety- and stress-related behaviors, accompanied by changes in specific components the CRF system. Although the primary focus of CRF research on social behavior has been on the deleterious effects of social stress, there are also insights on a role for CRF and urocortins in prosocial and affiliative behaviors. The CRF system has been implicated in parental care, maternal defense, sexual behavior, and pair bonding. Species differences in the ligands and CRF receptors have been observed in vole and bird species differing in social behavior. Exogenous administration of CRF facilitates partner preference formation in monogamous male prairie voles, and these effects are dependent on both the CRF R1 and R2 receptors. These findings are particularly interesting as studies have also implicated the CRF and urocortins in social memory. With the rapid progress of social neuroscience and in understanding the complex structure of the CRF system, the next challenge is in parsing the exact contribution of individual components of this system to specific social behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 92
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue number7 MAY
StatePublished - 2013


  • Crf
  • Isolation
  • Maternal behavior
  • Psychological
  • Social behavior
  • Stress
  • Urocortins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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