Motivational properties of oxytocin in the conditioned place preference paradigm.
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We hypothesized that oxytocin might have intrinsic reinforcing properties and studied it using a conditioned place preference. Three studies examining motivational properties of oxytocin in nonpreferred, preferred, and balance designs were performed utilizing two compartment apparatus. On alternate days, compartments were paired with subcutaneously injected oxytocin (6 mg/kg) or saline, and animal pre- and post-conditioning place preference was compared. Whereas in animals paired with saline there was a shift to a lack of preference, oxytocin-treated animals reversed their preference, spending more time in a previously unpreferred, compartment. In preferred compartment design, oxytocin-treated animals further increased their preference, whereas saline-treated animals decreased their preference toward a nonpreference for either compartment. Our results demonstrate that oxytocin produces a reliable and robust preference for the environment with which it is repeatedly associated, and has rewarding or potentially anti-aversive properties. Future studies are needed to distinguish among these possibilities.