Gertsch Group

Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland

the chemistry of love - a hopeless case

the chemistry of love - a hopeless case
Jurg Gertsch - Sun Aug 22, 2010 @ 04:59PM
Comments: 6

Psychobiology has studied social bonding and attachment from a CNS perspective. However, what is going on in the brains of human beings when they feel the subjective feeling of "love" or "being in love"? Zeki, 2007 (the year of many reviews on this topic) wrote a most wonderful paper "the neurobiology of love" in which he points out that it's all about positive and negative emotions and that we are addicted towards positive emotions. Interestingly, love and hate appear to share at least some major brain areas (Zeki and Romaya, 2008), maybe not unexpectadly, as most reasons of hate are somehow related to non-responded love. One molecule that seems to be involved in "romantic love" is the neurotransmitter oxytocin, a peptide hormone (see structure below), which apparently is indirectly involved in love perception.


This molecule increases trust and reduces fear. In a risky investment game, experimental subjects given nasally administered oxytocin displayed "the highest level of trust" twice as often as the control group. It also works by affecting generosity by increasing empathy during perspective taking. In an experiment, intranasal oxytocin increased generosity in the Ultimatum Game by 80% but has no effect in the Dictator Game that measures altruism. Perspective-taking is not required in the Dictator Game, but the researchers in this experiment explicitly induced perspective-taking in the Ultimatum Game by not identifying to participants which role they would be in. As Starka, 2007, pointed out: "Throughout literature--fiction and poetry, fine arts and music--falling in love and enjoying romantic love plays a central role. While several psychosocial conceptions of pair attachment consider the participation of hormones, human endocrinology has dealt with this theme only marginally. According to some authors in addictology, falling in love shows some signs of hormonal response to stressors with changes in dopamine and serotonin signalling and neurotrophin (transforming growth factor b) concentration. Endorphins, oxytocin and vasopressin may play a role during the later phases of love. However, proof of hormonal events associated with love in humans has, until recently, been lacking." I believe that in order to achieve this, we should have a more complete analytics, which considers all peptides and secondary metabolites, including lipids. If we could do biochemistry of thr brains of people in love vs. normal vs. people who hate then we should be able to detect molecular patterns of substances produced differentially. But this is a long way to go. In the meantime, sellers of modern "love potions" like marketed oxytocin (e.g. as Pitocin) or people who put GHB, a GABA B ligand (see structure below)


into the drinks of others (without them knowing), to increase their oxytocin levels and make them feel open and good (and induce sleep, see Rifat on GHB) will at least subjectively increase love, if at all, - but maybe the answer is not in the chemistry but in the philosophy.

Comments: 6


1. Julia   |   Sat Sep 25, 2010 @ 10:42AM

Interesting thoughts ... but given that the subject is so inherently complex, will we ever understand the true nature of love? I belive it's more than biochemistry. God, let's hope it is.

2. Forcas73   |   Wed Oct 06, 2010 @ 05:53AM

I just wonder whether GHB actually increases oxytocin levels as the effect is more subtle if not used as narcotic. Interesting also that GHB is used to treat nacrolepsia - a sleeping disorder - is GHB a neurotransmitter or just a medicine?

3. S. Song   |   Sat Dec 11, 2010 @ 07:08AM

Maybe the GHB effect is a toxic effect rather than a specific one like alcohol. Are there any studies on the side effects of GHB after long-term usage?

4. hanna73   |   Mon Jan 24, 2011 @ 09:44PM

GHB is an endogenous substance and has its own receptors. See paper: Calcium and cAMP signaling induced by gamma-hydroxybutyrate receptor(s) stimulation in NCB-20 neurons. Coune P, Taleb O, Mensah-Nyagan AG, Maitre M, Kemmel V. Neuroscience. 2010 Apr 28;167(1):49-59.

5. scientist923   |   Wed Sep 14, 2011 @ 08:17PM

I love science and hate to read that my love for it is maybe based on chemical circuits that think to hate but love instead. As Feynman has put it: I wonder why I wonder why I wonder why ....

6. Cheap Web Hosting  |  my website   |   Mon Apr 08, 2019 @ 11:45AM

You have very well described the subject of chemistry into love. It can be defined by name also.

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