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William Armstrong, PhD of UTHSC receives $1.5 million grant to research hormone Oxytocin


William Armstrong William Armstrong of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Researches Hormone Oxytocin Using $1.5 Million Grant

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.]