Social touch promotes interfemale communication via activation of parvocellular oxytocin neurons

Yan Tang, Diego Benusiglio, Arthur Lefevre, Louis Hilfiger, Ferdinand Althammer, Anna Bludau, Daisuke Hagiwara, Angel Baudon, Pascal Darbon, Jonas Schimmer, Matthew K. Kirchner, Ranjan K. Roy, Shiyi Wang, Marina Eliava, Shlomo Wagner, Martina Oberhuber, Karl K. Conzelmann, Martin Schwarz, Javier E. Stern, Gareth LengInga D. Neumann, Alexandre Charlet, Valery Grinevich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Oxytocin (OT) is a great facilitator of social life but, although its effects on socially relevant brain regions have been extensively studied, OT neuron activity during actual social interactions remains unexplored. Most OT neurons are magnocellular neurons, which simultaneously project to the pituitary and forebrain regions involved in social behaviors. In the present study, we show that a much smaller population of OT neurons, parvocellular neurons that do not project to the pituitary but synapse onto magnocellular neurons, is preferentially activated by somatosensory stimuli. This activation is transmitted to the larger population of magnocellular neurons, which consequently show coordinated increases in their activity during social interactions between virgin female rats. Selectively activating these parvocellular neurons promotes social motivation, whereas inhibiting them reduces social interactions. Thus, parvocellular OT neurons receive particular inputs to control social behavior by coordinating the responses of the much larger population of magnocellular OT neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1125-1137
Number of pages13
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank T. Grund and X. Liu for initial contribution to this study, R. Stoop for valuable comments on the manuscript, J. Müller for packaging viral vectors, E. Kremer for the canine virus, J. Maicos-Roya for contributing to the modeling of OT release, S. Netser for his comments on the manuscript, C. Pitzer and the Interdisciplinary Neurobehavioral Core Facility of Heidelberg University for some of the behavioral experiments performed there, and T. Splettstoesser ( for composing Extended Data Fig. 10. The work was supported by Chinese Scholarship Council No. 201406140043 (to Y.T.), the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1158 seed grant for young researchers and Fyssen Foundation (to A.L.), DFG postdoctoral fellowship AL 2466/1-1 (to F.A.), Alexander von Humboldt research fellowship (to D.H.), Human Frontier Science Program RGP0019/2015 (to V.G. and S.W.), Israel Science Foundation (grant nos. 1350/12 and 1361/17), Milgrom Foundation and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space of Israel (grant no. 3-12068, to S.W.), NIH grant (no. R01NS094640, to J.E.S.), BBSRC grant (no. BB/S000224/1, to G.L.), DFG grant (nos. NE 465/27, NE 465/31 and NE 465/34, to I.D.N.), ANR-DFG grant and PICS grant (no. GR 3619/701 and no. GR 07882, to A.C. and V.G.), NARSAD Young Investigator grant (no. 24821) and ANR JCJC grant (no. GR 19-CE16-0011-01, to A.C.), DFG grant (no. GR 3619/4-1), SFB 1158, SNSF-DFG grant (no. GR 3619/8-1) and Fritz Thyssen Foundation grant (no. MN) (all to V.G.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature America, Inc.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)


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