Oxytocin is a natural hormone that manages key aspects of the female and male reproductive systems, including labor and delivery and lactation, as well as aspects of human behavior. Your hypothalamus makes oxytocin, but your posterior pituitary gland stores and releases it into your bloodstream.
During labor, when the fetus's body (usually head) pushes against your cervix, the nerve impulses from this stimulation travel to your brain and stimulate your pituitary gland to release oxytocin into your bloodstream. The oxytocin travels to your uterus and stimulates contractions.
These uterine contractions, in turn, cause your pituitary gland to release more oxytocin, leading to an increase in both the intensity and frequency of contractions. Oxytocin also increases the production of prostaglandins (a group of lipids with hormone-like actions), which move labor along and increase the contractions even more. This enables you to carry out vaginal delivery completely.
When your baby sucks at your breast, oxytocin secretion causes the milk to release so your baby can feed. As long as your baby keeps sucking, your pituitary gland continues releasing oxytocin. Once your baby stops feeding, the release of oxytocin stops until the next feeding.
In people assigned male at birth (AMAB), oxytocin plays a part in ejaculation. The hormone contracts the vas deferens to push sperm and semen forward for ejection. Oxytocin also affects the production of testosterone (a sex hormone) in the testes.
Low oxytocin levels have been linked to autism spectrum disorder and depressive symptoms. Scientists are still researching the connection between oxytocin and these conditions, and the potential of using synthetic oxytocin as a treatment.
Having higher-than-normal oxytocin levels is very rare for people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and is called oxytocin toxicity. It results in an overactive uterus, causing an increase in uterine muscle mass (hypertrophy), which limits pregnancy due to not being enough space in your uterus to hold your fetus.
For people assigned male at birth, high levels of oxytocin have been linked to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is a condition in which the prostate, a walnut-sized body part made of glandular and muscular tissue, grows in size.
Oxytocin (Oxt or OT) is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide normally produced in the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary. Present in animals since early stages of evolution, in humans it plays roles in behavior that include social bonding, reproduction, childbirth, and the period after childbirth. Oxytocin is released into the bloodstream as a hormone in response to sexual activity and during labour. It is also available in pharmaceutical form. In either form, oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions to speed up the process of childbirth. In its natural form, it also plays a role in bonding with the baby and milk production. Production and secretion of oxytocin is controlled by a positive feedback mechanism, where its initial release stimulates production and release of further oxytocin. For example, when oxytocin is released during a contraction of the uterus at the start of childbirth, this stimulates production and release of more oxytocin and an increase in the intensity and frequency of contractions. This process compounds in intensity and frequency and continues until the triggering activity ceases. A similar process takes place during lactation and during sexual activity.
The uterine-contracting properties of the principle that would later be named oxytocin were discovered by British pharmacologist Henry Hallett Dale in 1906, and its milk ejection property was described by Ott and Scott in 1910 and by Schafer and Mackenzie in 1911.
Oxytocin's molecular structure was determined in 1952. In the early 1950s, American biochemist Vincent du Vigneaud found that oxytocin is made up of nine amino acids, and he identified its amino acid sequence, the first polypeptide hormone to be sequenced. In 1953, du Vigneaud carried out the synthesis of oxytocin, the first polypeptide hormone to be synthesized. Du Vigneaud was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1955 for his work.
Further work on different synthetic routes for oxytocin, as well as the preparation of analogues of the hormone (e.g. 4-deamido-oxytocin) was performed in the following decade by Iphigenia Photaki.
Estrogen has been found to increase the secretion of oxytocin and to increase the expression of its receptor, the oxytocin receptor, in the brain. In women, a single dose of estradiol has been found to be sufficient to increase circulating oxytocin concentrations.
Oxytocin and vasopressin are the only known hormones released by the human posterior pituitary gland to act at a distance. However, oxytocin neurons make other peptides, including corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and dynorphin, for example, that act locally. The magnocellular neurons that make oxytocin are adjacent to magnocellular neurons that make vasopressin, and are similar in many respects.
The oxytocin peptide is synthesized as an inactive precursor protein from the OXT gene. This precursor protein also includes the oxytocin carrier protein neurophysin I. The inactive precursor protein is progressively hydrolyzed into smaller fragments (one of which is neurophysin I) via a series of enzymes. The last hydrolysis that releases the active oxytocin nonapeptide is catalyzed by peptidylglycine alpha-amidating monooxygenase (PAM).
The activity of the PAM enzyme system is dependent upon vitamin C (ascorbate), which is a necessary vitamin cofactor. By chance, sodium ascorbate by itself was found to stimulate the production of oxytocin from ovarian tissue over a range of concentrations in a dose-dependent manner. Many of the same tissues (e.g. ovaries, testes, eyes, adrenals, placenta, thymus, pancreas) where PAM (and oxytocin by default) is found are also known to store higher concentrations of vitamin C.
Oxytocin is known to be metabolized by the oxytocinase, leucyl/cystinyl aminopeptidase. Other oxytocinases are also known to exist. Amastatin, bestatin (ubenimex), leupeptin, and puromycin have been found to inhibit the enzymatic degradation of oxytocin, though they also inhibit the degradation of various other peptides, such as vasopressin, met-enkephalin, and dynorphin A.
In the hypothalamus, oxytocin is made in magnocellular neurosecretory cells of the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei, and is stored in Herring bodies at the axon terminals in the posterior pituitary. It is then released into the blood from the posterior lobe (neurohypophysis) of the pituitary gland. These axons (likely, but dendrites have not been ruled out) have collaterals that innervate neurons in the nucleus accumbens, a brain structure where oxytocin receptors are expressed. The endocrine effects of hormonal oxytocin and the cognitive or behavioral effects of oxytocin neuropeptides are thought to be coordinated through its common release through these collaterals. Oxytocin is also produced by some neurons in the paraventricular nucleus that project to other parts of the brain and to the spinal cord. Depending on the species, oxytocin receptor-expressing cells are located in other areas, including the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis.
In the pituitary gland, oxytocin is packaged in large, dense-core vesicles, where it is bound to neurophysin I as shown in the inset of the figure; neurophysin is a large peptide fragment of the larger precursor protein molecule from which oxytocin is derived by enzymatic cleavage.
Secretion of oxytocin from the neurosecretory nerve endings is regulated by the electrical activity of the oxytocin cells in the hypothalamus. These cells generate action potentials that propagate down axons to the nerve endings in the pituitary; the endings contain large numbers of oxytocin-containing vesicles, which are released by exocytosis when the nerve terminals are depolarised.
Outside the brain, oxytocin-containing cells have been identified in several diverse tissues, including in females in the corpus luteum and the placenta; in males in the testicles' interstitial cells of Leydig; and in both sexes in the retina, the adrenal medulla, the thymus and the pancreas. The finding of significant amounts of this classically "neurohypophysial" hormone outside the central nervous system raises many questions regarding its possible importance in these diverse tissues.
The Leydig cells in some species have been shown to possess the biosynthetic machinery to manufacture testicular oxytocin de novo, to be specific, in rats (which can synthesize vitamin C endogenously), and in guinea pigs, which, like humans, require an exogenous source of vitamin C (ascorbate) in their diets.
Virtually all vertebrates have an oxytocin-like nonapeptide hormone that supports reproductive functions and a vasopressin-like nonapeptide hormone involved in water regulation. The two genes are usually located close to each other (less than 15,000 bases apart) on the same chromosome, and are transcribed in opposite directions (however, in fugu, the homologs are further apart and transcribed in the same direction).
Oxytocin has peripheral (hormonal) actions, and also has actions in the brain. Its actions are mediated by specific oxytocin receptors. The oxytocin receptor is a G-protein-coupled receptor, OT-R, which requires magnesium and cholesterol and is expressed in myometrial cells. It belongs to the rhodopsin-type (class I) group of G-protein-coupled receptors.
Studies have looked at oxytocin's role in various behaviors, including orgasm, social recognition, pair bonding, anxiety, in-group bias, situational lack of honesty, autism, and maternal behaviors. Oxytocin is believed to have a significant role in social learning. There are indicators that oxytocin may help to decrease noise in the brain's auditory system, increase perception of social cues and support more targeted social behavior. It may also enhance reward responses. However, its effects may be influenced by context, such as the presence of familiar or unfamiliar individuals. 041b061a72