Touch-induced face conditioning is mediated by genetic variation in opioid but not oxytocin receptors

Fu Y., Selcuk E., Moore S. R., Depue R. A.

SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, vol.8, 2018 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 8
  • Publication Date: 2018
  • Doi Number: 10.1038/s41598-018-27199-2
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: No


Soft touch possesses strong prosocial effects that facilitate social bonding and group cohesion in animals. Touch activates opioids (OP) and oxytocin (OXT), two neuromodulators involved in affiliative behaviors and social bonding. We examined whether touch serves as an unconditioned reward in affective conditioning of human faces, a basic process in social bonding, and whether this process is mediated by variation in mu-OP (OPRM1) and OXT (rs53576) receptor genes. Participants viewed affectively-neutral human faces, half of which were paired with a brief soft brushing on the forearm as an unconditioned stimulus (US). Paired and unpaired faces were rated for positive affective and sensory features of touch. Variation in OPRM1 but not rs53576 significantly modulated strength and development of conditioning, indicating that touch-induced mu-OP but not OXT activity provides rewarding properties of a US in conditioning. Implications for touch-induced mu-OP activity in normal and disordered conditioned social bonding are discussed.