Does he have good “values” and “morals”, or is he just as addicted to you as he is to gambling, drugs, religion or The Simpsons? For better or worse, it seems, addiction is the answer.
It appears that “Romantic Love” that has all of the passionate components of intense feelings from one person toward another, jealousy and devotion compare almost identically to the process and experience of addiction to drugs, like cocaine.
In fact, monogamy is addiction. Both drug addiction and monogamy are experienced in the brain in the same neural pathways. The ramifications are startling and teach us a lot about ourselves.
As strange as it may seem, it appears if you want a monogamous partner, you might be looking for that “addictive personality” which we are now finding is nothing more than a specific reward function in the addictive person’s brain.
I’ve included the latest and most shocking two studies in this week’s Coffee for you:
Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University and Atlanta’s Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) have found transferring a single gene, the vasopressin receptor, into the brain’s reward center makes a promiscuous male meadow vole monogamous. This finding, which appears in the June 17 issue of Nature, may help better explain the neurobiology of romantic love as well as disorders of the ability to form social bonds, such as autism. In addition, the finding supports previous research linking social bond formation with drug addiction, also associated with the reward center of the brain.
In their study, Yerkes and CBN post-doctoral fellow Miranda M. Lim, PhD, and Yerkes researcher Larry J. Young, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University’s School of Medicine and the CBN, attempted to determine whether differences in vasopressin receptor levels between prairie and meadow voles could explain their opposite mating behaviors. Previous studies of monogamous male prairie voles, which form lifelong social or pair bonds with a single mate, determined the animals’ brains contain high levels of vasopressin receptors in one of the brain’s principal reward regions, the ventral pallidum. The comparative species of vole, the promiscuous meadow vole, which frequently mates with multiple partners, lacks vasopressin receptors in the ventral pallidum.
The scientists used a harmless virus to transfer the vasopressin receptor gene from prairie voles into the ventral pallidum of meadow voles, which increased vasopressin receptors in the meadow vole to prairie-like levels. The researchers discovered, just like prairie voles, the formerly promiscuous meadow voles then displayed a strong preference for their current partners rather than new females.
Young acknowledges many genes are likely involved in regulating lifelong pair bonds between humans. “Our study, however, provides evidence, in a comparatively simple animal model, that changes in the activity of a single gene profoundly can change a fundamental social behavior of animals within a species.”
According to previous research, vasopressin receptors also may play a role in disorders of the ability to form social bonds, such as in autism. “It is intriguing,” says Young, “to consider that individual differences in vasopressin receptors in humans might play a role in how differently people form relationships.”
And, Lim adds, past research in humans has shown the same neural pathways involved in the formation of romantic relationships are involved in drug addiction. “The brain process of bonding with one’s partner may be similar to becoming addicted to drugs: both activate reward circuits in the brain.”
The researchers’ next step is to determine why there is extensive variability in behaviors among individuals within a species in order to better understand the evolution of social behavior.
The reward mechanism involved in addiction appears to regulate lifelong social or pair bonds between monogamous mating animals, according to a Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) study of prairie voles published in the January 19 edition of the Journal of Comparative Neurology. The finding could have implications for understanding the basis of romantic love and disorders of the ability to form social attachments, such as autism and schizophrenia.
In their research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Larry Young, PhD., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and an affiliate scientist at Yerkes National Primate Research Center; graduate student Miranda Lim; and Anne Murphy, PhD., associate professor of biology at Georgia State University, examined the distribution of two brain receptors in the ventral forebrain of monogamous prairie voles that have been previously tied to pair bond formation: oxytocin (OTR) and vasopressin V1a receptor (V1aR). Using receptor audiographic techniques, the scientists found that these receptors are confined to two of the brain’s reward centers, the nucleus accumbens and the ventral pallidum. V1aR receptors, which are thought to be activated in the male vole brain during pair bond formation, were confined largely to the ventral pallidum. OTR receptors, which play a crucial role in pair bond formation in females, were found mainly in the nucleus accumbens.
The V1aR and OTR receptors did not overlap between the two brain regions, and were equally distributed in the brains of male and female voles. According to Dr. Young, the findings, coupled with the close proximity of the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum– two regions with heavily interconnected structures–suggest that a common neural circuit in male and female voles regulates pair bond formation.
Past studies have found the dopamine system of the nucleus accumbens produces the rewarding and sometimes addictive effects of sex, food and drugs of abuse. Dr. Young believes the same reward pathways are likely stimulated during and following pair bond formation.
“Although the process of pair bond formation results from the activity of two different neurochemicals in separate regions of the ventral forebrain in male and female vole brains,” said Young, “the OTR and V1aR systems appear to activate two separate nodes of the same reward pathway to form and reinforce pair bonds.”
In another finding, the CBN researchers determined that OTR and V1aR are closely located near the nerve fibers that release oxytocin and vasopressin. Lim speculated that their proximity likely facilitates pair bond formation during mating.
CBN studies currently underway continue to examine other components of the neural circuit involved in pair bond formation.
The monogamous prairie vole, which forms lifelong pair bonds, provides an ideal animal model for studying the neural basis of social attachment. In previous studies, CBN scientists have determined:
- The genes for vasopressin and oxytocin are critical for the proper processing of social information;
- A lack of genes for vasopressin and oxytocin receptors results in a deficit in social recognition and altered anxiety in mice;
- Vasopressin and oxytocin play key roles in the formation of social attachments between animals. Increasing the amount of vasopressin receptors in the brain using gene transfer techniques can increase pair-bonding behavior in monogamous male prairie voles.
These findings will help us understand key information when it comes to bonding and mating in the future.
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