When it comes to social behavior, fewer hormones have garnered the interest as the twin nonapeptides, oxytocin and vasopressin. These molecules are paramount for proper social functioning and play a role in pair bonding, parenting, in-group and out-group dynamics, and social communication. Recent research has even implicated oxytocin and vasopressin system dysfunction in the social deficits found in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). For example, children with autism and their mothers are more likely to have atypical plasma levels of vasopressin. Animal studies have shown that when proper vasopressin functioning is experimentally altered, a variety of social deficit follows, including impaired memory for peers and a reduced interest in social interaction. Therefore, finding a way to alter central vasopressin levels may be informative for both understanding ASD and potentially treating ASD.
As vasopressin is too large to cross the blood brain barrier, intranasal administration is likely the most effective, non-invasive way of increasing central vasopressin levels. Currently, there’s a clinical trial investigating these effects on children with ASD. However, there is little research showing the effects of intranasal vasopressin on either a behavioral or neuroanatomical level. Thus, my research is focused on modeling the effects of intranasal vasopressin in prairie voles, a socially monogamous animal species. But, while this work may have clinical implications, my interests revolve around exploring the basic biology of the vasopressin system.