New York: A hormone better known for its role in inducing sexual attraction and orgasm also helps mothers to stay alert and respond to her baby's cries for help and attention, suggests a new research.
The powerful brain hormone oxytocin acts on individual brain cells to prompt specific social behaviours, the findings showed.
"We found that oxytocin turns up the volume of social information processed in the brain," said study senior investigator Robert Froemke, assistant professor at the New York University Langone Medical Center.
"This suggests that it could one day be used to treat social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, speech and language disorders, and even psychological issues stemming from child abuse," Froemke noted.
The hormone is also known for regulating breast feeding and promoting maternal-infant bonding.
In experiments on mice, the researchers mapped oxytocin to unique receptor cells in the left side of the brain's cortex.
They found that the hormone controls the volume of "social information" processed by individual neurons, curbing so-called excitatory or inhibitory signals -- and immediately determining how female mice with pups responded to cries for help and attention.
In separate experiments in adult female mice with no pups -- and hence no experience with elevated oxytocin levels -- adding extra oxytocin into their "virgin" brains led these mice to quickly recognise the barely audible distress calls of another mother's pups recently removed from their home nest.
These adult mice quickly learned to set about fetching the pups, picking them up by the scruffs of their necks and returning them to the nest - all as if they were the pups' real mother.
The findings appeared online in the journal Nature.