Image of ants by Vinayaraj (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Inotocin is the insect form of the so-called “love” hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, as you may know, is responsible for inducing labor in pregnant women. A recent study published in Scientific Reports describes the work of a team of researchers that created a synthetic version of inotocin which could bind to both oxytocin and vasopressin receptors in human tissues. Vasopressin is important for preventing water loss in the kidneys, which is how it gets its other name, antidiuretic hormone. In the presence of oxytocin though, it can help promote uterine contractions.
The research team made slight modifications to inotocin and then exposed isolated human uterine tissue to the modified hormone. Remarkably, inocotin blocked receptors for vasopressin in the tissue and inhibited muscle contractions. The team is hoping that this research will lead to new treatments to prevent preterm labor.
As for its role in ants, Dr. Christian Gruber at the Medical University of Vienna is working on finding out exactly what this hormone does in the social insects.