Consequences of Synthetic Oxytocin in the Maternal Brain

McDonald, Maria, Nursing - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Alhusen, Jeanne, School of Nursing, University of Virginia

Oxytocin has complex actions throughout the body and is commonly known for its key role in promoting uterine contractions during parturition. Synthetic oxytocin is widely administered in hospital-based settings to improve uterine contractions when medically indicated. Although there are important benefits of synthetic oxytocin administration during parturition, less is understood regarding potential adverse effects on the mother long-term. Importantly, evidence suggests there is a link between maternal exposure to high doses of synthetic oxytocin and outcomes of maternal postpartum depression (PPD); however, the biological mechanisms underlying this relationship have not been fully elucidated. Examining epigenetic regulatory factors that impact transcription of the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene can be useful for understanding how synthetic oxytocin might change maternal neurobiology. Here, we analyze dose-dependent effects of synthetic oxytocin on Oxtr gene expression in the maternal brain using the prairie vole as a model organism. Specifically, our findings demonstrate a change in the relationship between Oxtr DNA methylation and Oxtr gene expression in the nucleus accumbens of term pregnant female prairie voles exposed to a high dose of synthetic oxytocin. We further demonstrate correlations between the DNA methylation state of the Oxtr gene in the nucleus accumbens and in whole blood for future translational research in human mothers.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Synthetic oxytocin , OXTR, Birth , Postpartum depression , Maternal brain , Praire vole
Sponsoring Agency:
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
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