Hormone of Monogamy: The Prairie Vole and the Biology of Mating

By Fackelmann, Kathy A. | Science News, November 27, 1993 | Go to article overview

Hormone of Monogamy: The Prairie Vole and the Biology of Mating


Fackelmann, Kathy A., Science News


What makes some males stay with one female while others play the field?

Researchers believe that a chemical produced in the brain may turn on monogamous behavior. But also for those who would like to package the stuff, scientists have only been able to tie this love potion to a mouse-like mammal known as the prairie vole -- not to humans. Scientists just don't know whether this chemical, or any other like it, mediates human behavior.

Field biologists have noted that the male prairie vole pairs off with a single female, probably for life. Neuroscientists have long wondered what keeps these males content with one mate while their close cousins, the montane voles, exhibit a more, shall we say, promiscuous dating style. While the stay-at-home prairie voles cuddle in their burrows, montane males mate indistriminately with one female after another.

This vast difference in lifestyle may come down to a single brain hormone, vasopressin, which in the human body is more commonly associated with regulation of water content. Research indicates that vasopressin induces the male prairie vole to stay with and protect his mate.

At the same time, vasopressin may trigger another characteristic behavior--that of the father prairie vole caring for his pups, another group of investigators finds.

What makes the monogamous praire voles so radically different from their polygamous cousins?

To answer that question, neuroscientist Thomas R. Insel of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) neurophysiology lab in Poolesville, Md., turned to a discovery his team made last year (SN: 7/4/92, p.6.). The researchers found that compared to polygamous voles, prairie voles' brains had different distributions of certain receptors, proteins that sit on the surface of nerve cells. The finding led the team to the chemicals that fit with those receptors -- namely, vasopressin and the reproductive hormone oxytocin.

In their most recent research, "We asked a very simple question," says Insel "[Does] either of these hormones induce or affect pair-bonding in the monogamous animal?" Insel and his colleagues, including C. Sue Carter of the University of Maryland at College Park, provide some answers in a report published in the Oct. 7 NATURE.

Before delving into the specifics of the team's investigation, it may be helpful to define monogamy. The average person probably thinks of monogamy as a sexually exclusive relationship. Biologists, however, define the word a little differently. The monogamous animal is one that spends most of its time with one mate but is not entirely faithful, points out Insel. Most monogamous animals will, on occasion, mate with a stranger, he says. In addition, the monogamous male vole often takes a fiercely protective stance when a stranger threatens the nest. Finally, such males often help their mates with child-rearing tasks.

Insel and his colleagues began by observing mate-guarding behavior, the dramatic change that overcomes a mle prairie vole when an intruder enters his family's burrow.

Previous research had shown that, after mating, the normally timid male prairie vole will attack any strange male that happens by the nest, explains report coauthor James T. Winslow, who worked with Insel at the NIMH laboratory and is now a researcher at Hoechst-Roussel Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in Somerville, N.J.

The tream confirmed that response, showing that makes who had mated with a female would indeed show this Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation when confronted with a strange male vole. In contrast, virgin male prairie voles remained timid when a new male was placed in their cage.

Something happened during the sexual experience, the team theorized, to transform the normally shy male prairie vole into an aggressor. To test the theory, the researchers tried to prevent that behavioral change with a chemical blockade, something that would stop the action of vasopressin or oxytocin. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Hormone of Monogamy: The Prairie Vole and the Biology of Mating
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.