Could we reduce love to a pill? Maybe, says expert

Wed Jan 7, 2009 1:35pm EST
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Could a pill or a squirt up your nose save your marriage? Maybe, according to a researcher who is studying the chemical basis of that most elusive of emotions -- love.

Larry Young says his ultimate quest is not a high-tech love potion but to shed light on serious conditions like autism, which affects the ability to form social attachments, by studying brain chemicals involved in emotional attachment.

"Biologists may soon be able to reduce certain mental states associated with love to a biochemical chain of events," Young, of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta, wrote in the journal Nature.

His study of prairie voles has shown that a quick dose of the right hormone can drastically alter relationships.

The cute rodents are a good model for human relationships, Young said. Unlike many other animals, they form lifelong pairs and raise their young together.

But this behavior is easy to change, Young says.

"It's a chemical reaction. At least in voles we know that if you take a female and place her with a male and infuse her brain with oxytocin, she will quickly bond with that male," he said in a telephone interview.

Taking away her natural levels of oxytocin -- a hormone involved in labor, nursing and social bonding -- means she will reject a male as a mate no matter how many times she physically copulates with him.   Continued...

<p>Dr. Larry Young embraces his wife on their honeymoon in this undated handout photo released to Reuters January 7, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Young/Handout</p>