Physiological functions of oxytocin released during stress are not well understood. We have (1) investigated the release of oxytocin during chronic stress using two long-term stress models and (2) simulated stress-induced oxytocin secretion by chronic treatment with oxytocin via osmotic minipumps. Plasma oxytocin levels were significantly elevated in rats subjected to acute immobilization stress for 120 min, to repeated immobilization for 7 days and to combined chronic cold stress exposure for 28 days with 7 days immobilization. To simulate elevation of oxytocin during chronic stress, rats were implanted with osmotic minipumps subcutaneously and treated with oxytocin (3.6 microg/100 g body weight/day) or vehicle for 2 weeks. Chronic subcutaneous oxytocin infusion led to an increase in plasma oxytocin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, corticosterone, adrenal weights and heart/body weight ratio. Oxytocin treatment had no effect on the incorporation of 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine into DNA in the heart ventricle. Mean arterial pressure response to intravenous phenylephrine was reduced in oxytocin-treated animals. Decrease in adrenal tyrosin hydroxylase mRNA following oxytocin treatment was not statistically significant. Oxytocin treatment failed to modify food intake and slightly increased water consumption. These data provide evidence on increased concentrations of oxytocin during chronic stress. It is possible that the role of oxytocin released during stress is in modulating hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis and selected sympathetic functions.
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