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Love Hormone Reduces Background Chatter

Update Date: Aug 05, 2013 11:01 AM EDT

When two people connect at a particular moment, nothing else seems to matter. In movies and shows, the idea that two people who are falling in love can feel like the only people in a crowded room is played out constantly. This type of experience, researchers believe is not limited to movies, but rather, in real life as well. According to researchers, oxytocin, which is often dubbed the love hormone, can help people zone out background chatter in order to focus on their companions. By reducing chatter in one's surroundings, social and parental bonding can occur even in crowded places.

"Oxytocin has a remarkable effect on the passage of information through the brain," said Richard W. Tsien, DPhil, the Druckenmiller Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Neuroscience Institute at New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center where the study was conducted. "It not only quiets background activity, but also increases the accuracy of stimulated impulse firing. Our experiments show how the activity of brain circuits can be sharpened, and hint at how this re-tuning of brain circuits might go awry in conditions like autism."

For this study, the researchers used 30-year old findings from a previous study done in Geneva. That particular study found that oxytocin works in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that is responsible for memory and cognition. Oxytocin works by triggering the nerve cells, also known as inhibitory interneurons to produce a chemical call GABA. Based from the fact that GABA has the ability to dampen activity, the researchers theorized that oxytocin would slow down brain circuits.

After testing this theory in rat models, the researchers found that oxytocin actually promotes these inhibitory interneurons to activate while slowing down the release of GABA. This combination allows people to focus on their companions while tuning out background noise effectively. The researchers hope that more research into this hormone could help with autism research.

"It's too early to say how the lack of oxytocin signaling is involved in the wide diversity of autism-spectrum disorders, and the jury is still out about its possible therapeutic effects. But it is encouraging to find that a naturally occurring neurohormone can enhance brain circuits by dialing up wanted signals while quieting background noise," said researcher Gord Fishell, Ph.D., the Julius Raynes Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology at NYU Langone Medical Center according to the press release.  

The study was published in Nature.

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