Mu-opioid Receptor (OPRM1) Variation, Oxytocin Levels and Maternal Attachment in Free-Ranging Rhesus Macaques Macaca mulatta

James P. Higham, Christina S. Barr, Christy L. Hoffman, Tara M. Mandalaywala, Karen J. Parker, Dario Maestripieri

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Understanding the genetic and neuroendocrine basis of the mother-infant bond is critical to understanding mammalian affiliation and attachment. Functionally similar nonsynonymous mu-opioid receptor (OPRM1) SNPs have arisen and been maintained in humans (A118G) and rhesus macaques Macaca mulatta (C77G). In rhesus macaques, variation in OPRM1 predicts individual differences in infant affiliation for mothers. Specifically, infants carrying the G allele show increased distress on separation from their mothers, and spend more time with them upon reunion, than individuals homozygous for the C allele. In humans, individuals possessing the G allele report higher perceptions of emotional pain on receiving rejection by social partners. We studied maternal behavior over the course of a year among free-ranging female rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. We then trapped females and collected blood samples from which we assessed OPRM1 genotype; we also collected cerebrospinal fluid samples from which we measured oxytocin (OT) levels. We show that females possessing the G allele restrain their infants more (i.e., prevent infants from separating from them by pulling them back) than females homozygous for the C allele. Females possessing the G allele also show higher OT levels when lactating, and lower OT levels when neither lactating nor pregnant, than females homozygous for the C allele. This is the first study to demonstrate an association between OPRM1 genotype and maternal attachment for infants, and is one of the first studies of any free-ranging primate population to link functional genetic variation to behavior via potentially related neuroendocrine mechanisms.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)131-136
    Number of pages6
    JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 2011


    • Attachment
    • Functional genetics
    • Mother-infant bond
    • Opioids
    • Oxytocin

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Behavioral Neuroscience


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