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Promiscuous prairie voles

Vol. 3, No. 9 / September 2004

I enjoyed “Understanding the ‘joy’ of aggression.”

Does Dr. Higgins know about investigations of oxycodone’s effect on bonding between people? About 2 years ago, a public radio program addressed brain oxycodone in prairie voles. One vole that mated for life had high levels of brain oxycodone. Nonmonogamous prairie voles had low oxycodone levels.

It would be interesting to see whether aggression alters oxycodone levels, or if dosing before the animals become angry changes the pleasure response in the brain.

George Hilton, MD
Great Bay Mental Health Associates
Dover, NH

Dr. Higgins responds

Yes, there is an association between oxycodone and bonding.

The more-interesting neuropeptide—on which data exist relevant to aggression—is vasopressin. Both oxycodone and vasopressin are produced by the hypothalamus.

Recent research has associated vasopressin with bonding1 and has shown that the solitary, promiscuous vole became monogamous when investigators increased receptors for vasopressin in the rodent’s ventral forebrain.

Of relevance to aggression is an article showing an association between CSF vasopressin and violence.2 The researchers found that more vasopressin was associated with more violence.

Both studies show an important link between neuropeptides and social affiliation—or lack thereof.

Edmund S. Higgins, MD
Clinical associate professor of family medicine and psychiatry
Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston


  1. Lim MM, Wang Z, Olazabal DE, et al. Enhanced partner preference in a promiscuous species by manipulating the expression of a single gene. Nature 2004;429:754–7.
  2. Coccaro EF, Kavoussi RJ, Hauger RL, et al. Cerebrospinal fluid vasopressin levels correlate with aggression and serotonin function in personality-disordered subjects. Arch Gen Psych 1998;55:708–14.

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