Previous research suggests that the nonpeptide oxytocin receptor (OTR) agonist WAY 267,464 may only partly mimic the effects of oxytocin in rodents. The present study further explored these differences and related them to OTR and vasopressin 1a receptor (V₁aR) pharmacology and regional patterns of c-Fos expression. Binding data for WAY 267,464 and oxytocin were obtained by displacement binding assays on cellular membranes, while functional receptor data were generated by luciferase reporter assays. For behavioural testing, adolescent rats were tested in a social preference paradigm, the elevated plus-maze (EPM) and for locomotor activity changes following WAY 267,464 (10 and 100 mg/kg, i.p.) or oxytocin (0.1 and 1 mg/kg, i.p.). The higher doses were also examined for their effects on regional c-Fos expression. Results showed that WAY 267,464 had higher affinity (Ki) at the V₁aR than the OTR (113 versus 978 nM). However, it had no functional response at the V₁aR and only a weak functional effect (EC₅₀) at the OTR (881 nM). This suggests WAY 267,464 is an OTR agonist with weak affinity and a possible V₁aR antagonist. Oxytocin showed high binding at the OTR (1.0 nM) and V₁aR (503 nM), with a functional EC₅₀ of 9.0 and 59.7 nM, respectively, indicating it is a potent OTR agonist and full V₁aR agonist. WAY 267,464 (100 mg/kg), but not oxytocin, significantly increased the proportion of time spent with a live rat, over a dummy rat, in the social preference test. Neither compound affected EPM behaviour, whereas the higher doses of WAY 267,464 and oxytocin suppressed locomotor activity. WAY 267,464 and oxytocin produced similar c-Fos expression in the paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus, central amygdala, lateral parabrachial nucleus and nucleus of the solitary tract, suggesting a commonality of action at the OTR with the differential doses employed. However, WAY 267,464 caused greater c-Fos expression in the medial amygdala and the supraoptic nucleus than oxytocin, and lesser effects in the locus coeruleus. Overall, our results confirm the differential effects of WAY 267,464 and oxytocin and suggest that this may reflect contrasting actions of WAY 267,464 and oxytocin at the V₁aR. Antagonism of the V₁aR by WAY 267,464 could underlie some of the prosocial effects of this drug either through a direct action or through disinhibition of oxytocin circuitry that is subject to vasopressin inhibitory influences.
- social behaviour