Activation of neurons containing oxytocin and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) during colorectal distention (CRD) is likely to play a crucial role in animal models of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Earlier studies in rodents showed that the microbiome is involved in social behavior via oxytocin expression in the brain. However, the detailed mechanism of visceral sensation and oxytocin is largely unknown. We tested the following hypotheses: (1) that oxytocin neurons in the PVN are activated by CRD, and (2) that the activation of oxytocin neurons by CRD is related to anxiety-like behavior, visceral perception, and an activation of CRH CeA neurons or ACC neurons. Oxytocin antagonist caused visceral hypersensitivity and anxiety-like behavior. In the PVN, oxytocin neurons were activated by CRD. Noxious CRD activated the CeA, basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA), and ACC. High-dose oxytocin antagonist suppressed ACC activity and activated CRH CeA neurons. These results support our hypotheses. Oxytocin likely regulates CRH CeA neurons in an inhibitory manner and the ACC in an excitatory manner. Further research into the interaction of oxytocin and CRH in visceral pain and anxiety is warranted.
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