Structure and Relation To Vasopressin
Oxytocin is a peptide of nine amino acids (a nonapeptide). Its systematic name is cysteine-tyrosine-isoleucine-glutamine-asparagine-cysteine-proline-leucine-glycine-amine (cys – tyr – ile – gln – asn – cys – pro – leu – gly – NH2, or CYIQNCPLG-NH2). Oxytocin has a molecular mass of 1007 daltons. One international unit (IU) of oxytocin is the equivalent of about 2 micrograms of pure peptide. While the structure of oxytocin is highly conserved in placental mammals, a novel structure of oxytocin was recently reported in marmosets, tamarins, and other new world primates. Genomic sequencing of the gene for oxytocin revealed a single in-frame mutation(thymine for cytosine) which results in a single amino acid substitution at the 8-position (proline for leucine).
The biologically active form of oxytocin, commonly measured by RIA and/or HPLC techniques, is also known as the octapeptide "oxytocin disulfide" (oxidized form), but oxytocin also exists as a reduced dithiol nonapeptide called oxytoceine. It has been theorized that open chain oxytoceine (the reduced form of oxytocin) may also act as a free radical scavenger (by donating an electron to a free radical); oxytoceine may then be oxidized back to oxytocin via the redox potential of dehydroascorbate <---> ascorbate.
The structure of oxytocin is very similar to that of vasopressin (cys – tyr – phe – gln – asn – cys – pro – arg – gly – NH2), also a nonapeptide with a sulfur bridge, whose sequence differs from oxytocin by two amino acids. A table showing the sequences of members of the vasopressin/oxytocin superfamily and the species expressing them is present in the vasopressin article. Oxytocin and vasopressin were isolated and synthesized by Vincent du Vigneaud in 1953, work for which he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1955.
Oxytocin and vasopressin are the only known hormones released by the human posterior pituitary gland to act at a distance. However, oxytocin neurons make other peptides, including corticotropin-releasing hormone and dynorphin, for example, that act locally. The magnocellular neurons that make oxytocin are adjacent to magnocellular neurons that make vasopressin, and are similar in many respects.
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