Putting The Happy Hormones On The Spot Light

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Light is known to be the source of all life on our planet. For instance, plants need sunlight to produce chlorophyll, which they use to manufacture nutrition and filter the air humans breathe. Meanwhile, both humans and animals rely on plants to survive. Because of this, everything is dependent on light in some way.

Humans require exposure to natural sunshine and its cycle for healthy bodily function. It is generally known that light impacts the endogenous synthesis of vitamin D and melatonin and that these hormones play a part in emotional disorders like SAD. We also rely heavily on artificial light’s practical ease, from lighting up our houses at night to creating diverse moods with color-changing LED lights.

In a recent study that was published in Nature Methods, researchers from Japan discovered an intriguing new application for light, proposing that it may be used to track the production of the “happy hormone” oxytocin (OT), a peptide generated in the brain that is linked to emotions of joy and love.

A Fluorescent Sensor “Happy Hormone” Dynamics In The Brain

Several physiological functions, such as mood, appetite, labor, and aging, are significantly influenced by oxytocin. It serves as a chemical messenger and is crucial for various human activities, such as bonding between a mother and her child and sexual excitement. Oxytocin has earned the nickname “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical” as a result.

Oxytocin’s impact on the brain is intricate. The current study focuses on determining how oxytocin affects conditions like addiction, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and anorexia.

A deeper comprehension of OT dynamics in the brain may offer insight into these illnesses and contribute to future treatment options. Impairment of OT signaling is hypothesized to be connected with neurological disorders, including autism and schizophrenia. The capacity of earlier OT detection and monitoring techniques to accurately reflect dynamic variations in extracellular OT levels over time has been constrained. To effectively visualize OT release in the brain, the research team led by Osaka University set out to develop an effective instrument.

The researchers created the MTRIAOT green fluorescent OT sensor by using the oxytocin receptor from the medaka fish as a scaffold to build a highly specialized, ultrasensitive OT sensor. They claimed that extracellular OT binding causes MTRIAOT’s fluorescence intensity to increase, enabling real-time surveillance of extracellular OT levels.

The study team carried out cell culture analyses to evaluate the functionality of MTRIAOT. The successful measurement of OT dynamics using fluorescent recording techniques was made possible by the subsequent deployment of MTRIAOT in the brains of living animals. They studied the effects of various variables, including social interaction, anesthetic, nutrition, and aging, that could impact OT dynamics.

Analysis by the research team showed that OT dynamics in the brain varied and were influenced by the physical and behavioral health of the animals. Age, food deprivation, anesthetic exposure, and interactions with other animals correlated with particular brain OT levels patterns.

These results suggest that MTRIAOT might be beneficial for improving our comprehension of OT dynamics in the brain. This technology may open the door to novel therapies for treating various diseases because anomalies in OT signaling are thought to be connected with mental disorders. The scientists also discovered that the MTRIA scaffold used to build the OT sensor might be used to build sensors for additional critical brain hormones and neurotransmitters.

The researchers added that finding a quantifiable way to gauge OT concentrations in the living brain will open up new research directions for the future. This will make it easier to compare data that was collected from several measurement sites, in various animals, or from various experimental setups. Real-time monitoring of absolute OT quantities in the living brain will be possible with the development of next-generation OT sensors that are dependent on changes in quantitative fluorescence parameters (such as fluorescence lifetime and Förster resonance energy transfer efficiency).

In sum, the researchers concluded by saying that their MTRIAOT-mediated measurements can reveal details about the dynamics of OT in the brain. Furthermore, their investigations show that aging, starvation, and anesthesia can all have an impact on the patterns of OT dynamics in the brain. Therefore, while evaluating OT measurement data in the brain, it is crucial to carefully examine the experimental setup and participant status. Inconsistencies about the effects of OT in human clinical trials that are participant- and context-dependent may be connected to such factors. We will be able to learn more about brain OT dynamics and how it relates to complicated behaviors by using MTRIAOT.

Journal Reference

Ino, D., Tanaka, Y., Hibino, H., & Nishiyama, M. (2022). A fluorescent sensor for real-time measurement of extracellular oxytocin dynamics in the brain. Nature Methods, 19(10), 1286–1294. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41592-022-01597-x 

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