Skip to main content
Select Source:

oxytocin

oxytocin is one of the two major hormones secreted from the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, the other being vasopressin, the antidiuretic hormone. The posterior pituitary itself largely comprises endings of nerves whose cell bodies lie in the brain in the hypothalamus. Its hormones are extruded from the nerve endings directly into blood capillaries and thence into the general circulation. Oxytocin is a relatively small peptide hormone, composed of only 9 amino acids. It is synthesized in nerve cells in the hypothalamus in the form of a larger, precursor molecule, which is transported down the nerve fibres through the pituitary stalk to the posterior lobe. The active hormone is cleaved from the precursor during this process.

Oxytocin was the first hormone to have its structure identified and to be synthesized in the laboratory. This was achieved in 1953 by two groups, one working in France and the other in the United States. The hormone plays an important role in birth and in feeding the infant. It has two major actions, the first being to promote contractions of the uterus, an action which is used in obstetric practice when the hormone is infused if labour is protracted. The second action is to cause contraction of the muscular elements surrounding the alveoli and milk ducts in the breasts, thereby helping to expel the milk (milk let-down). Oxytocin is also found in men, but its role is not clear, although it has been suggested that it aids sperm transport during mating. The stimuli for release reflect the actions of the hormone and its actions are rapid because they are evoked by sensory nerve impulses which communicate with the hypothalamic nerve cells. Thus it is released during vaginal stimulation, so that during the process of birth, as the infant enters the birth canal, oxytocin is released and in turn causes increased uterine activity, allowing the process to proceed more rapidly. The oxytocin released at this time may also cause milk ejection, a response known as Ferguson's reflex. This reflex was first described in 1942, although herdsmen had been aware of it for centuries and had used it as an aid to milking; in the second century ad, Galen, the Greek physician and prolific writer, described how herdsmen would blow into the vagina of mares to improve milk yield. Oxytocin is also released in response to suckling and many other stimuli associated with breast feeding, such as the sight and sound of the infant. If the mother is not relaxed, this may act via the hypothalamus to inhibit oxytocin release so that problems with breast feeding may arise.

Interestingly, there have been no descriptions of clinical conditions associated with over- or underproduction of this hormone. Recent work with genetically modified mice which are unable to produce oxytocin indicates that the hormone is essential for lactation, but not for parturition.

Oxytocin exemplifies interplay between hormonal and neural systems: unlike most hormones, it is made in nerve rather than glandular cells. Sensory nerves stimulate the nerve cells to activate its extrusion into the blood so that — like other hormones — it reaches the ‘target’ site via the circulation. This is an example of a ‘neuroendocrine’ secretion.

Mary L. Forsling


See also birth; breast; hormones; infant feeding; pituitary.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oxytocin

"oxytocin." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oxytocin

oxytocin

oxytocin (ŏksĬtō´sĬn), hormone released from the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland that facilitates uterine contractions and the milk-ejection reflex. The structure of oxytocin, a cyclic peptide consisting of nine amino acids, was determined in 1953 and in the same year it was synthesized in the laboratory. Both oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone are biosynthesized in the hypothalamus of the brain and travel down neuronal axons to the posterior pituitary, where they accumulate prior to release. Stimuli that elicit the release of oxytocin include childbirth, suckling, and coitus; the uterine contractions that result may facilitate either childbirth or the ascent of spermatozoa through the fallopian tubes. Oxytocin may also play a role in the initiation of labor. The milk-ejection response occurs only in females immediately after childbirth. The role of oxytocin in males is unknown.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oxytocin

"oxytocin." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oxytocin

oxytocin

oxytocin A hormone, produced by birds and mammals, that in mammals causes both contraction of smooth muscle in the uterus during birth and expulsion of milk from the mammary glands during suckling. Like antidiuretic hormone, oxytocin is produced in the neurosecretory cells of the hypothalamus (see neurosecretion) but is stored and secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. See also neurophysin.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Biology. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Biology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin-0

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Biology. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin-0

oxytocin

oxytocin (oksi-toh-sin) n. a hormone, released by the pituitary gland, that causes contraction of the uterus during labour and stimulates milk flow from the breasts by causing contraction of muscle fibres in the milk ducts. Intravenous infusions or injections of oxytocin (Syntocinon) are used to induce uterine contractions and to control or prevent postpartum haemorrhage. See also ergometrine.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin

oxytocin

ox·y·to·cin / ˌäksəˈtōsən/ • n. Biochem. a hormone released by the pituitary gland that causes increased contraction of the uterus during labor and stimulates the ejection of milk into the ducts of the breasts.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin-0

"oxytocin." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin-0

oxytocin

oxytocin Hormone produced by the pituitary gland in women during pregnancy. It stimulates the muscles of the uterus, initiating the onset of labour and maintaining contractions during childbirth. It also stimulates lactation.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oxytocin

"oxytocin." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/oxytocin

oxytocin

oxytocin A peptide hormone, secreted by the mammalian neurohypophysis, which causes the contraction of smooth muscle (particularly that of the uterus) and the secretion of milk.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin

"oxytocin." A Dictionary of Zoology. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin

oxytocin

oxytocin •assassin • Yeltsin • sasine •Solzhenitsyn • rebbetzin •biomedicine, medicine •ceresin •ricin, Terramycin •tocsin, toxin •Wisconsin • oxytocin • niacin •moccasin • characin • Capuchin •Latin, satin •plantain • captain •marten, martin •cretin •pecten, pectin •Quentin •clandestine, destine, intestine •sit-in • quintain • bulletin • chitin •Austen, Mostyn •fountain, mountain •gluten, highfalutin, RasputinDustin, Justin •biotin • legatine • gelatin • keratin •certain, Curtin •Kirsten • Gethin • lecithin • Bleddyn •Gavin, ravin, ravine, savin, spavin •Alvin, Calvin •Marvin •Bevin, Kevin, levin, Previn, replevin •kelvin, Melvin •riboflavin • covin • Mervyn

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"oxytocin." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"oxytocin." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin

"oxytocin." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/oxytocin