Arginine vasopressin and oxytocin modulate human social behavior

Richard P. Ebstein, Salomon Israel, Elad Lerer, Florina Uzefovsky, Idan Shalev, Inga Gritsenko, Mathias Riebold, Shahaf Salomon, Nurit Yirmiya

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

157 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence suggests that two nonapeptides, arginine vasopressin and oxytocin, shape human social behavior in both nonclinical and clinical subjects. Evidence is discussed that in autism spectrum disorders genetic polymorphisms in the vasopressin-oxytocin pathway, notably the arginine vasopressin receptor 1a (AVPR1a), the oxytocin receptor (OXTR), neurophysin I and II, and CD38 (recently shown to be critical for social behavior by mediating oxytocin secretion) contribute to deficits in socialization skills in this group of patients. We also present first evidence that CD38 expression in lymphoblastoid cells derived from subjects diagnosed with autism is correlated with social skill phenotype inventoried by the Vineland Adaptive Behavioral Scales. Additionally, we discuss molecular genetic evidence that in nonclinical subjects both AVPR1a and OXTR genes contribute to prosocial or altruistic behavior inventoried by two experimental paradigms, the dictator game and social values orientation. The role of the AVPR1a is also analyzed in prepulse inhibition. Prepulse inhibition of the startle response to auditory stimuli is a largely autonomic response that resonates with social cognition in both animal models and humans. First results are presented showing that intranasal administration of arginine vasopressin increases salivary cortisol levels in the Trier Social Stress test. To summarize, accumulating studies employing a broad array of cutting-edge tools in psychology, neuroeconomics, molecular genetics, pharmacology, electrophysiology, and brain imaging are beginning to elaborate the intriguing role of oxytocin and arginine vasopressin in human social behavior. We expect that future studies will continue this advance and deepen our understanding of these complex events.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationValues, Empathy, and Fairness across Social Barriers
PublisherBlackwell Publishing Inc.
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9781573317603
StatePublished - Jun 2009

Publication series

NameAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Print)0077-8923
ISSN (Electronic)1749-6632


  • AVPR1a
  • Arginine vasopressin
  • Autism
  • CD38
  • Intranasal
  • OXTR
  • Oxytocin
  • Polymorphism
  • Prepulse inhibition


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