Differences on the OXTR between modern humans and extinct hominids: a window to our language-ready behavior.


Oxytocin is an important neurotransmitter that functions through its receptor (OXTR) to control a diverse set of biological processes: pregnancy and uterine contractions, milk-ejection, attachment between mothers and their young, bond formation, copulation and orgasm, suppression of stress, thermoregulation, olfactory processing, eye-contact and recognition of familiar individuals. Changes on the OXTR have been repeatedly associated with social deficits (like Autism Spectrum Disorders and Schizophrenia) and aggressive behavior, and interestingly, with communication problems, suggesting a role of oxytocin in our linguistic cognition. Since many different Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) on this gene have been associated with specific behavioral phenotypes, we used the OXTR as a testbed for possible behavioral differences between modern humans on the one hand and extinct hominids on the other. We searched if there are any SNPs on the OXTR in humans, when compared to Neanderthals and Denisovans, and if any of those coincide with SNPs that have been already shown to have a behavioral correlate in humans.