A study, published on June 12, 2012, in PLoS One, provides perhaps the first evidence that oxytocin and arginine vasopressin are both dysregulated in Williams Syndrome.
Human emotion and social behavior are linked to neuroendocrine function, and two hypothalamic neuropeptides, oxytocin (OT) and arginine vasopressin (AVP) appear to regulate reproduction, social behaviors and emotionality in mammals.
The nine amino acid neuropeptide OT, discovered by Sir Henry Dale in 1906 is best known for its role in inducing labor and lactation. More recent research indicates however that it is involved in a wide variety of physiological functions.
This includes enhanced trust, emotional empathy, increased and direct eye gaze, maternal behavior, social recognition, social bonding and the establishment of early bonding, and increased generosity. Also low levels of oxytocin have been linked with anxiety in children and reported in women with depression
Williams Syndrome (WS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by profound disturbances in social relationships. This includes strikingly gregarious personality and an increased approach to strangers, accompanied by enhanced emotional reactivity to music, high levels of generalized anxiety and poor social judgment.
Music is known potent emotional stimulus, and interestingly, WS subjects show striking interest in and increased emotional and amygdalar responses to music.
In the PLoS One study, Li Dai and colleagues from the Center for Integrated Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, studied blood levels of OT and AVP in WS and controls at baseline, and at multiple time-points following a positive emotional intervention (music), and to a well-characterized negative stressor, cold.
The authors found that the basal OT and to a lesser extent AVP, are elevated in WS, and are related to measures of WS social behavior. In addition, they report that emotional (music) and physically aversive (cold) stimuli caused an exaggerated release of OT and AVP. Of note, higher levels of basal OT were correlated with increased approach to strangers.
These results indicate that in WS, the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie intensified emotional responses to music and possibly social behavior, may in part involve the dysregulated synthesis or release of both OT and AVP from the hypothalamic neurohypophyseal system.
They may also indicate a paradigm shift toward understanding OT as an endogenous modulator of human behaviors that may not always be adaptive in daily life.
Source: PLoS One; June 12, 2012; http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038513
Read more: PLoS One
See also the BrainImmune’s commentary about this article by Vincent Geenen.
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