Bridging the gap between rodents and humans: The role of non-human primates in oxytocin research

Philip T. Putnam, Larry J. Young, Katalin M. Gothard

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Oxytocin (OT), a neuropeptide that acts in the brain as a neuromodulator, has been long known to shape maternal physiology and behavior in mammals, however its role in regulating social cognition and behavior in primates has come to the forefront only in the recent decade. Many of the current perspectives on the role of OT in modulating social behavior emerged first from studies in rodents, where invasive techniques with a high degree of precision have permitted the mechanistic dissection of OT-related behaviors, as well as their underlying neural circuits in exquisite detail. In parallel, behavioral and imaging studies in humans have suggested that brain OT may similarly influence human social behavior and neural activity. These studies in rodents and humans have spurred interest in the therapeutic potential of targeting the OT system to remedy deficits in social cognition and behavior that are present across numerous psychiatric disorders. Yet there remains a tremendous gap in our mechanistic understanding of the influence of brain OT on social neural circuitry between rodents and man. In fact, very little is known regarding the neural mechanisms by which exogenous or endogenous OT influences human social cognition, limiting its therapeutic potential. Here we discuss how non-human primates (NHPs) are uniquely positioned to now bridge the gaps in knowledge provided by the precise circuit-level approaches widely used in rodent models and the behavioral, imaging, and clinical studies in humans. This review provides a perspective on what has been achieved, and what can be expected from exploring the role of OT in shaping social behaviors in NHPs in the coming years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22756
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • non-human primates
  • oxytocin
  • social behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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