Oxytocin is a social and reproductive hormone that also plays critical roles in a range of homeostatic processes, including thermoregulation. Here, we examine the role of oxytocin (OT) as a mediator of brown adipose tissue (BAT) thermogenesis, cold-induced huddling, and thermotaxis in eight-day-old (PD8) OT ‘knock out’ (OTKO) mouse pups. We tested OTKO and wildtype (WT) pups in single- and mixed-genotype groups of six, exposing these to a period of ambient warmth (~35°C) followed by a period of cold (~21.5°C). Whether huddling exclusively with other OTKO or alongside WT pups, OTKO pups showed reduced BAT thermogenesis and were significantly cooler when cold-challenged. Huddles of OTKO pups were also significantly less cohesive than WT huddles during cooling, suggesting that thermoregulatory deficits contribute to contact abnormalities in OTKO pups. To further explore this issue, we examined thermotaxis in individuals and groups of four OTKO or WT pups placed on the cool end of a thermocline and permitted to freely locomote for 2h. When tested individually, male OTKO pups displayed abnormal thermotaxis, taking significantly longer to move up the thermocline and settling upon significantly lower temperatures than WT pups during the 2h test. OTKO mouse pups thus appear to have deficits in both thermogenesis and thermotaxis—the latter deficit being specific to males. Our results add to a growing body of work indicating that OT plays critical roles in thermoregulation and also highlight the entanglement of social and thermoregulatory processes in small mammals such as mice.
Hormones and Behavior – Elsevier
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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