From vasotocin to stress and cognition

Publication Type:

Journal Article


de Kloet, E.R.


Eur J Pharmacol, Volume 626, Number 1, p.18-26 (2010)


1879-0712 (Electronic)00

DOI Name (links to online publication)



Animals; Behavior; Animal; Brain/metabolism/physiology; Cognition/physiology; Genetic Variation; Humans; Stress; Physiological/*physiology; Vasotocin/*metabolism


Sex and stress hormones coordinate experience and behaviour with physiological regulations. In the brain the sex hormones act to promote the repertoire of affiliative and reproductive behaviours. Stress hormones target in particular brain circuits underlying emotional arousal and cognition. To exert these actions the hormones operate in concert with neuropeptide secreting systems. Here I will discuss three examples of hormone action on brain and behaviour. First in the song bird manipulation of brain vasotocin promotes acquisition of a stable stereotyped song pattern. Second in mammal's central glucocorticoid feedback action, initiated and enhanced by vasopressin, is mediated by two types of nuclear receptors that operate in complementary fashion to maintain homeostasis and health. One receptor system, the mineralocorticoid receptors, activates the switch from spatial to habit learning under stressful conditions, while the stress-induced behavioural response is stored in the memory via activation of the glucocorticoid receptors. Third, genetic predisposition and early life experience program neuropeptide and glucocorticoid systems for life with the goal to match with expected future demands. Hence, a mismatch between the early imprinted response modes with later life conditions enhances vulnerability to disease. These three topics have in common that they illustrate how hormones govern plasticity of neural stress circuitry underlying complex behavioural tasks, how upon dysregulation psychiatric disorders may develop for which the individual is predisposed and how such hormone action may promote resilience still present in the diseased brain.