The inflammatory event of birth: How oxytocin signaling may guide the development of the brain and gastrointestinal system.
The role of oxytocin (OT) as a neuropeptide that modulates social behavior has been extensively studied and reviewed, but beyond these functions, OT's adaptive functions at birth are quite numerous, as OT coordinates many physiological processes in the mother and fetus to ensure a successful delivery. In this review we explore in detail the potential adaptive roles of oxytocin as an anti-inflammatory, protective molecule at birth for the developing fetal brain and gastrointestinal system based on evidence that birth is a potent inflammatory/immune event. We discuss data with relevance for a number of neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as the emerging role of the gut-brain axis for health and disease. Finally, we discuss the potential relevance of sex differences in OT signaling present at birth in the increased male vulnerability to neurodevelopmental disabilities.
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