Individual variation in social behavior offers an opportunity to explore gene-by-environment interactions that could contribute to adaptative or atypical behavioral profiles (e.g., autism spectrum disorders). Outbred, socially monogamous prairie voles provide an excellent model to experimentally explore how natural variations in rearing and genetic diversity interact to shape reproductive and nonreproductive social behavior. In this study, we manipulated rearing (biparental versus dam-only), genotyped the intronic NT213739 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) of the oxytocin receptor gene (Oxtr), and then assessed how each factor and their interaction related to reciprocal interactions and partner preference in male and female adult prairie voles. We found that C/T subjects reared biparentally formed more robust partner preferences than T/T subjects. In general, dam-only reared animals huddled less with a conspecific in reproductive and nonreproductive contexts, but the effect of rearing was more pronounced in T/T animals. In line with previous literature, C/T animals exhibited higher densities of oxytocin receptor (OXTR) in the striatum (caudoputamen, nucleus accumbens) compared to T/T subjects. There was also a gene-by-rearing interaction in the striatum and insula of females: In the insula, T/T females expressed varying OXTR densities depending on rearing. Overall, this study demonstrates that significant differences in adult reproductive and nonreproductive social behavior and OXTR density can arise due to natural differences in Oxtr, experimental manipulations of rearing, and their interaction.
Gene-by-environment interaction, Oxtr single-nucleotide polymorphism, Oxytocin receptor, Partner preference, Prairie vole, Rearing, Reciprocal interaction, Social behavior
© The authors
Ahern, Todd H.; Olsen, Sara; Tudino, Ryan; and Beery, Annaliese K., "Natural Variation in the Oxytocin Receptor Gene and Rearing Interact to Influence Reproductive and Nonreproductive Social Behavior and Receptor binding" (2021). Psychology: Faculty Publications, Smith College, Northampton, MA.