SYDNEY, Nov. 14 (Xinhua) -- A hormone responsible for aiding breast feeding also regulates the body's salt and fluid levels, Australian scientists have found.
Researchers from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health found that brain cells containing the oxytocin receptor stop people from consuming too much salt or water.
Phillip Ryan, the lead researcher, studied the neural pathways of mice to establish that the receptors exist in the parabrachial nucleus (PBN) which has previously been thought to influence how much a person eats and drinks.
"What hasn't been clear up to this point was the precise groups of PBN cells responsible for these behaviors and how. Using genetically engineered mice we turned the oxytocin receptor cells on and off, and showed the cells reduced fluid intake, but had no effect on food intake," Ryan said in a media release published on Tuesday.
By examining the brains of the mice after depriving them of salt and fluid, Ryan observed that the cells were only active after the need for salt and water had been rebalanced, protecting the body from excessive intake.
Ryan believes that the receptors could even be involved in more complex processes such as anxiety or drug addiction.
"Excitingly, given the brain regions involved in the oxytocin circuit, we think these cells are going to play a role in more complex behaviors, like anxiety," he said.
"Also, given the role of salt satisfaction in the same reward pathway that gets hijacked by addictive drugs, this research opens up potential avenues for new addiction treatments."
A team from the Florey Institute will now explore if the receptors can be exploited to treat anxiety or addiction.