UTHSC Researcher Receives $1.5 Million Grant to Study Hormone Oxytocin

William Armstrong of UTHSC Researches Hormone Oxytocin Using $1.5 Million

Memphis, Tenn. (February 7, 2013) – Most women who have had labor induced to deliver their babies have had experience with the hormone oxytocin. William Armstrong, PhD, at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), is conducting research on the neuronal mechanisms governing the release of oxytocin. His work is being funded with a $1.5 million grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will be dispersed over a five-year period.

Oxytocin is naturally released by neurons in the brain into the blood stream, where the hormone promotes contractions during birth and milk letdown during nursing. Oxytocin is released in short bursts lasting only a few seconds, creating a periodic, not a continuous release pattern.

“We’re interested in the properties of oxytocin neurons that make these bursts short,” said Dr. Armstrong, a professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, and director of the Neuroscience Institute. “Prolonged release of oxytocin would desensitize oxytocin receptors in the uterus or mammary gland. Since the properties of oxytocin neurons change during pregnancy and lactation, we want to investigate the mechanisms underlying this adaption, which maximizes the efficiency of oxytocin’s actions.”

Women who do not release oxytocin correctly or lack the hormone would be forced to bottle-feed their babies, and be likely to need assistance in labor induction. Results from Dr. Armstrong’s research could ultimately lead to changing the standard of the way the hormone is administered.

[Research reported was supported by Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Development the under award No. R0HD072056. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIH.]

As the flagship statewide academic health system, the mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service. Offering a broad range of postgraduate and selected baccalaureate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Allied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. UTHSC also educates and trains cohorts of medicine, pharmacy and/or allied health students — in addition to medical residents and fellows — at its major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville. Founded in 1911, during its more than 100 years, UT Health Science Center has educated and trained more than 53,000 health care professionals in academic settings and health care facilities
across the state. For more information, visit www.uthsc.edu.

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