Manipulation of the oxytocin system alters social behavior and attraction in pair-bonding primates, Callithrix penicillata

Adam S. Smith, Anders Ågmo, Andrew K. Birnie, Jeffrey A. French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


The establishment and maintenance of stable, long-term male-female relationships, or pair-bonds, are marked by high levels of mutual attraction, selective preference for the partner, and high rates of sociosexual behavior. Central oxytocin (OT) affects social preference and partner-directed social behavior in rodents, but the role of this neuropeptide has yet to be studied in heterosexual primate relationships. The present study evaluated whether the OT system plays a role in the dynamics of social behavior and partner preference during the first 3 weeks of cohabitation in male and female marmosets, Callithrix penicillata. OT activity was stimulated by intranasal administration of OT, and inhibited by oral administration of a non-peptide OT-receptor antagonist (L-368,899; Merck). Social behavior throughout the pairing varied as a function of OT treatment. Compared to controls, marmosets initiated huddling with their social partner more often after OT treatments but reduced proximity and huddling after OT antagonist treatments. OT antagonist treatment also eliminated food sharing between partners. During the 24-h preference test, all marmosets interacted more with an opposite-sex stranger than with the partner. By the third-week preference test, marmosets interacted with the partner and stranger equally with the exception that intranasal-OT treatments facilitated initial partner-seeking behavior over initial contact with the stranger. Our findings demonstrate that pharmacological manipulations of OT activity alter partner-directed social behavior during pair interactions, suggesting that central OT may facilitate the process of pair-bond formation and social relationships in marmoset monkeys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-262
Number of pages8
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Central oxytocin activity
  • Intranasal administration
  • L-368,899
  • Marmoset
  • Pair-bonding behavior
  • Partner preference
  • Sexual behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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