Oxytoxin is the hormone of social interactions, the mechanism of the interaction mostly unknown. Therefore, it is a nice surprise that Nakajima, Görlich, and Heintz from the Rockefeller Univ. in New York report in Cell on a newly identified subset of somatostatin interneurons from the prefrontal cortex of mice which bear the oxytocin receptor.
They silenced then this receptor in some mice. The females in these silenced mice with the oxytocin receptor inactive lacked the social interactions with male mice only during the estrus phase, when copulation would ensure progeny. The interactions with female mice were normal. In the diestrus phase interactions with males were not disturbed.
Similarily they could produce mice where the oxytocin gene was removed in the prefrontal cortex. The female mice showed the same deficit. Even mice treated with an oxytocin antagonist blocking the action of oxytocin had the same effect on the social interactions of the females thus treated.
We do not know whether oxytoxin is acting here in an endocrine way via the blood or as a neurotransmitter via synapses. It is not to far fetched to think oxytocin stimulating these interneurons is required – in mice – for social interactions leading to progeny although it is not in the paper.
A nice bit of information!