Oxytocin-love hormone from insects could prevent preterm labor
Oxytocin plays a crucial role in emotional bonding; whether it is between romantic partners, parents and children, or even owners and their pets.
The "love hormone" is naturally released in our body when we make love or make new friends. But apart from its role in social bonding and reproduction, oxytocin also helps mothers give birth.
Researchers from Austria, Australia, Czech Republic, Denmark and England introduced a small chemical modification into the insect and were able to isolate a neuropeptide that is very similar to love hormone and vasopressin.
Nancy Aaron Jones, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Florida Atlantic University's Department of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience, and her team got urine samples from mom and baby to measure love hormone oxytocin level. They want to know how the level of this hormone changes the mother's feeding and touch pattern and the baby's reaction as well.
Aside from monitoring love hormone level in the urine, the baby's brain waves were also monitored using a specially designed EEG cap. Jones found out that mothers who breast feed are bonding well. The effect of love hormone to babies showed that they have similar physiology as mothers who are not depressed.
In humans, researchers found that inotocin activated the V1b receptor, but inhibited the V1a. Then, Gruber and team tested the inotocin ligand on human uterine tissue, and found that it successfully inhibited muscular contractions.
"Surprisingly, by introducing a small chemical modification into this insect neuropeptide, we were able to develop a very stable and highly selective inhibitor of the human vasopressin V1a receptor," explains Gruber. "This ligand was tested on human uterine tissue and effectively inhibited muscular contractions. Further tests are now necessary to explore clinical applications of the active lead molecule."
Unlike for other animals, there has so far been little information available about the biology of this neuropeptide signaling system in insects.
"In a parallel study, by analyzing genetic data sets, we have now been able to show that many insects have an oxytocin or vasopressin-like signaling system, and it is presumably functionally related throughout the animal kingdom," reports Gruber.
With this information in hand, the future aim of the researchers is to explain the physiology and pharmacology of this signaling system in insects, and utilize this information to develop novel pharmaceutical tools or drug candidates for humans.