Molecular Basis of Oxytocin Receptor Signalling in the Brain: What We Know and What We Need to Know
Oxytocin (OT), a hypothalamic neuropeptide involved in regulating the social behaviour of all vertebrates, has been proposed as a treatment for a number of neuropsychiatric disorders characterised by deficits in the social domain. Over the last few decades, advances focused on understanding the social effects of OT and its role in physiological conditions and brain diseases, but much less has been done to clarify the molecular cascade of events involved in mediating such effects and in particular the cellular and molecular pharmacology of OT and its target receptor (OTR) in neuronal and glial cells.
The entity and persistence of OT activity in the brain is closely related to the expression and regulation of the OTR expressed on the cell surface, which transmits the signal intracellularly and permits OT to affect cell function. Understanding the various signalling mechanisms mediating OTR-induced cell responses is crucial to determine the different responses in different cells and brain regions, and the success of OT and OT-derived analogues in the treatment of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diseases depends on how well we can control such responses. In this review, we will consider the most important aspects of OT/OTR signalling by focusing on the molecular events involved in OT binding and coupling, on the main signalling pathways activated by the OTR in neuronal cells and on intracellular and plasma membrane OTR trafficking, all of which contribute to the quantitative and qualitative features of OT responses in the brain.
KeywordsCell signaling Central nervous system Oxytocin Oxytocin receptor Pharmacology Vasopressin receptor
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