Vaginocervical stimulation releases oxytocin within the spinal cord in rats

Giorgio R. Sansone, Carolyn A. Gerdes, Judith L. Steinman, James T. Winslow, John E. Ottenweller, Barry Komisaruk, Thomas R. Insel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Vaginocervical stimulation (VS) significantly elevated the concentration of oxytocin (OT) in spinal cord superfusates of 8 intact urethane-anesthetized rats measured 10-15 min after VS (median [interquartile range]: 1.7 [1.00-3.37] pg/ml) compared to that measured 10-15 min before VS (1.1 [1.01-1.40] pg/ml). When VS was administered once (n = 8), it produced a 55% increase over baseline values; when administered a second time 45 min later (n = 6), it produced only a 22% increase over pre-VS values. The effects of estrogen on the VS-induced release of OT were then investigated using ovariectomized rats that were treated either with estradiol benzoate (EB; 10 μg/100 g bw) (n = 6) or with an oil vehicle (n = 6) subcutaneously for 3 days. The EB treatment significantly elevated the basal levels of OT released into spinal cord superfusates above vehicle control levels. Within 5-10 min after the onset of VS, OT concentrations in the superfusates were significantly higher in EB-treated than in vehicle-treated rats. The vehicle-treated rats did not show a significant elevation in OT concentration following VS. To rule out the possibility that the posterior pituitary gland was the source of this OT, the effect of hypophysectomy (HYPOX) was assessed on the VS-induced release of OT into spinal cord superfusates and plasma. The concentration of OT in spinal cord superfusates of both the HYPOX (n = 5) and intact rats (n = 6) increased significantly from 5.8 [4.4-6.5] pg/ml pre-VS to 7.9 [6.7-10.3] pg/ml immediately after VS, and from 4.4 [3.8-5] pg/ml pre-VS to 5.1 [4.6-5.7] pg/ml immediately after VS, respectively. There was no significant difference in baseline levels of OT in cerebrospinal fluid between the two groups. By contrast, plasma OT levels, while significantly elevated in response to VS from 3.42 [2.9-5.34] pg/ml baseline to 7.25 [5.33-15.77] pg/ml in the intact group, failed to respond significantly to VS in the HYPOX group (n = 5). The present findings provide evidence of a direct estrogen-dependent release of OT within the spinal cord in response to VS, presumably via descending oxytocinergic neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)306-315
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 27 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


  • Adrenal steroids
  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone
  • Hypophysectomy
  • Ovarian steroids
  • Oxytocin
  • Paraventricular nucleus
  • Spinal cord
  • Vaginocervical stimulation

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