Oxytocin receptors are also present in the central nervous system. These receptors modulate a variety of behaviors, including stress and anxiety, social memory and recognition, sexual and aggressive behaviors, bonding (affiliation) and maternal behavior. (See the oxytocin article for more details.)
In some mammals, oxytocin receptors are also found in the kidney and heart.
The receptors for oxytocin (OXTR) have genetic differences with varied effects on individual behavior. The polymorphism (rs53576) occurs on the third intron of OXTR in three types: GG, AG, AA. The GG allele is connected with oxytocin levels in people. A-allele carrier individuals are associated with more sensitivity to stress, fewer social skills, and more mental health issues than the GG-carriers.
In a study looking at empathy and stress, individuals with the allele GG scored higher than A-carrier individuals in a “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test. GG carriers, with their naturally higher levels of oxytocin, were better able to distinguish between emotions. A-allele carriers responded with more stress to stressful situations than GG-allele carriers. A-allele carriers had lower scores on psychological resources, like optimism, mastery, and self-esteem, than GG individuals when measured with factor analysis for depressive symptomology and psychological resources, along with the Beck Depression Inventory. A-allele carriers had higher depressive symptomology and lower psychological resources than GG individuals. A-allele individuals scored lower in human sociality than GG people on a Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire. AA individuals had the lowest amygdala activation while processing emotionally salient information and those with GG had the highest activity when tested using BOLD during an fMRI.
A study looking at facial recognition in British and Finnish families with a single high-functioning autistic child found that a single change in the DNA had a major impact on face memory, with AA individuals having impaired SD scores.
The frequency of the A allele varies among ethnic groups, being significantly more common among East Asians than Europeans.
Several selective ligands for the oxytocin receptor have recently been developed, but close similarity between the oxytocin and related vasopressin receptors make it difficult to achieve high selectivity with peptide derivatives. However the search for a druggable, non-peptide template has led to several potent, highly selective, orally bioavailable oxytocin antagonists.
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