I've been seeing a flurry of recent articles in a growing stream of new information about the hormone oxytocin (OT). The classic view of OT spotlights its functions in triggering contractions of myoepithelial cells within mammary glands that "let down" or push the milk in to lactiferous ducts and in amplifying labor contractions.
OT is now being nicknamed the "trust hormone" because of its supposed effects in promoting social bonding between a mother and her nursing child and perhaps even between sexual partners. You probably already know of the central role of OT in the human orgasm--which explains why orgasms sometimes trigger milk-letdown in lactating women and why nursing infants sometimes produces feelings of orgasm. Some have even proposed that OT acts as a pheromone! For that reason, upcoming editions of my textbooks will mention some of the expanded functions for OT.
Scientific American has run some great articles on OT in print and online that summarize some of the recent breakthroughs in understanding the functions of OT:
To Trust or Not to Trust: Ask Oxytocin
July 15, 2008 – Mind Matters - By Mauricio Delgado
Hormone Spray Elicits Trust in HumansAffairs of the Lips: Why We Kiss
June 02, 2005 – News - By Kate Wong
January 31, 2008 – Scientific American Mind - By Chip Walter
February 01, 2006 – Scientific American Mind - By Jamie Talan
One of the Public Library of Science journals recently ran an article that uses computational analysis to reveal the dynamics of OT secretion that promises to lead to greater knowledge of the regulation of neuropeptides in general.
Unless you are really into computational biology, the Author Summary (follows the Abstract) is the best way to get the gist of this most recent breakthrough. Note the cooperative role of endocanniboids, which are marijuana-like transmitters in the human nervous system. (After my colleague at St. Louis University's Physiology Dept., Dr. Allyn Howlett, made her breakthrough discovery of cannaboid receptors in the human brain, I always wondered why we have receptors for weed . . . now we're getting some more answers to that question!)
In a post coming up soon, I'll tell you about some FREE journals to help you keep up to date! Really, I will. My word (and my oxytocin) is my bond!