Scientists are finding that, after all, love really is down to a chemical addiction between people
OVER the course of history it has been artists, poets and playwrights who have made the greatest progress in humanity's understanding of love. Romance has seemed as inexplicable as the beauty of a rainbow. But these days scientists are challenging that notion, and they have rather a lot to say about how and why people love each other.
Is this useful? The scientists think so. For a start, understanding the neurochemical pathways that regulate social attachments may help to deal with defects in people's ability to form relationships. All relationships, whether they are those of parents with their children, spouses with their partners, or workers with their colleagues, rely on an ability to create and maintain social ties. Defects can be disabling, and become apparent as disorders such as autism and schizophrenia—and, indeed, as the serious depression that can result from rejection in love. Research is also shedding light on some of the more extreme forms of sexual behaviour. And, controversially, some utopian fringe groups see such work as the doorway to a future where love is guaranteed because it will be provided chemically, or even genetically engineered from conception.
这真的有用吗？科学家们确实如是考虑。首先，让我们先来了解一下可调节社会附属关系的神经化学路径, 这有助于我们解决某些缺乏建立人际能力人群的问题。对于所有关系而言——无论是父母与子女间的亲情关系、夫妻间的婚姻关系，还是同事间的伙伴关系，全都依赖于一种建立并保持社会性纽带的能力。这种能力的缺损可使个人丧失行为能力并导致明显的心理紊乱，如自闭症和精神分裂症，正如将恋爱拒之门外可导致严重的沮丧一样。研究者们同样把目光投向了若干形式更为极端的性行为。有争议的是, 一些理想化且处于前沿领域的团体视该项工作为通向未来的一道大门。那时爱情将不会有任何风险，因为源于这个概念的化学或基因工程便可能将其变为现实。
The scientific tale of love begins innocently enough, with voles. The prairie vole is a sociable creature, one of the only 3% of mammal species that appear to form monogamous relationships. Mating between prairie voles is a tremendous 24-hour effort. After this, they bond for life. They prefer to spend time with each other, groom each other for hours on end and nest together. They avoid meeting other potential mates. The male becomes an aggressive guard of the female. And when their pups are born, they become affectionate and attentive parents. However, another vole, a close relative called the montane vole, has no interest in partnership beyond one-night-stand sex. What is intriguing is that these vast differences in behaviour are the result of a mere handful of genes. The two vole species are more than 99% alike, genetically.
Why do voles fall in love? / 为什么田鼠会坠入爱河？
The details of what is going on—the vole story, as it were—is a fascinating one. When prairie voles have sex, two hormones called oxytocin and vasopressin are released. If the release of these hormones is blocked, prairie-voles' sex becomes a fleeting affair, like that normally enjoyed by their rakish montane cousins. Conversely, if prairie voles are given an injection of the hormones, but prevented from having sex, they will still form a preference for their chosen partner. In other words, researchers can make prairie voles fall in love—or whatever the vole equivalent of this is—with an injection.
像往常一样，最让人着魔的是田鼠爱情故事的进展细节。当草原田鼠性交时，其体内会释放两种称作催产素和抗利尿激素的荷尔蒙。如果这些荷尔蒙的释放被阻断，草原田鼠的性生活便成了短暂的艳遇，它们就会像生性放荡的山区堂兄那样去尽享受风流韵事。 相反，如果给草原田鼠注射以上荷尔蒙，虽然阻止它们性交，它们依然会钟情于已选择的伴侣。换句话说, 不过就一剂注射，研究者们便能让草原田鼠落入情网，不管草原田鼠的感觉如何，反正它们会产生与爱相类似的神经反应。
A clue to what is happening—and how these results might bear on the human condition—was found when this magic juice was given to the montane vole: it made no difference. It turns out that the faithful prairie vole has receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin in brain regions associated with reward and reinforcement, whereas the montane vole does not. The question is, do humans (another species in the 3% of allegedly monogamous mammals) have brains similar to prairie voles?
研究者找到一条与正在发生情形相关的线索，这一线索与如何使上述结果作用于人类有关。线索的结论是：当把这一魔术般的汁液注入山区田鼠体内，其反应与草原田鼠如出一辙。这就证实了，在忠诚的草原田鼠大脑内，与奖赏与强化相关联的区域中，具有一种催产素和抗利尿激素的荷尔蒙受体, 然而山区田鼠却没有。 问题是: 人类——据称是3%实行一夫一妻制的哺乳动物中的另一物种，是否也具有和草原田鼠相似的大脑结构？
To answer that question you need to dig a little deeper. As Larry Young, a researcher into social attachment at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, explains, the brain has a reward system designed to make voles (and people and other animals) do what they ought to. Without it, they might forget to eat, drink and have sex—with disastrous results. That animals continue to do these things is because they make them feel good. And they feel good because of the release of a chemical called dopamine into the brain. Sure enough, when a female prairie vole mates, there is a 50% increase in the level of dopamine in the reward centre of her brain.
Similarly, when a male rat has sex it feels good to him because of the dopamine. He learns that sex is enjoyable, and seeks out more of it based on how it happened the first time. But, in contrast to the prairie vole, at no time do rats learn to associate sex with a particular female. Rats are not monogamous.
This is where the vasopressin and oxytocin come in. They are involved in parts of the brain that help to pick out the salient features used to identify individuals. If the gene for oxytocin is knocked out of a mouse before birth, that mouse will become a social amnesiac and have no memory of the other mice it meets. The same is true if the vasopressin gene is knocked out.
抗利尿激素和催产素就是从这里进入这个科学传说的。它们参与了大脑一些部分的工作，以帮助选出用于辨别个体的显著特征。 如果在老鼠出生前，DNA中的抗利尿激素基因即被剔除, 那只老鼠将会成为一个社会性失忆个体，它也不会对遇到的其他老鼠留下任何印象。如果催产素基因缺损，以上命题同样成立。
The salient feature in this case is odour. Rats, mice and voles recognise each other by smell. Christie Fowler and her colleagues at Florida State University have found that exposure to the opposite sex generates new nerve cells in the brains of prairie voles—in particular in areas important to olfactory memory. Could it be that prairie voles form an olfactory “image” of their partners—the rodent equivalent of remembering a personality—and this becomes linked with pleasure?
Dr Young and his colleagues suggest this idea in an article published last month in the Journal of Comparative Neurology. They argue that prairie voles become addicted to each other through a process of sexual imprinting mediated by odour. Furthermore, they suggest that the reward mechanism involved in this addiction has probably evolved in a similar way in other monogamous animals, humans included, to regulate pair-bonding in them as well.
You might as well face it ... / 你或许也会面对它……
Sex stimulates the release of vasopressin and oxytocin in people, as well as voles, though the role of these hormones in the human brain is not yet well understood. But while it is unlikely that people have a mental, smell-based map of their partners in the way that voles do, there are strong hints that the hormone pair have something to reveal about the nature of human love: among those of Man's fellow primates that have been studied, monogamous marmosets have higher levels of vasopressin bound in the reward centres of their brains than do non-monogamous rhesus macaques.
Other approaches are also shedding light on the question. In 2000, Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College, London, located the areas of the brain activated by romantic love. They took students who said they were madly in love, put them into a brain scanner, and looked at their patterns of brain activity.
其他方法也正在为人们寻找这些问题的谜底。2000 年，来自伦敦市大学学院的Andreas Bartels和Semir Zeki定位出了能被浪漫爱情激活的大脑区域。两位学者选择自称正在热恋的学生作为测试目标，利用脑扫描仪对他们的大脑活动模式进行观测。
The results were surprising. For a start, a relatively small area of the human brain is active in love, compared with that involved in, say, ordinary friendship. “It is fascinating to reflect”, the pair conclude, “that the face that launched a thousand ships should have done so through such a limited expanse of cortex.” The second surprise was that the brain areas active in love are different from the areas activated in other emotional states, such as fear and anger. Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke. Love, in other words, uses the neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction. “We are literally addicted to love,” Dr Young observes. Like the prairie voles.
令人惊讶的是：首先，人脑参与到恋爱的活动区域，较之其他感情（如普通友谊），相对要比较小些。“引人注意的是，结果显示，”两位学者推断说，“美丽的面容是通过控制一个有限区域的大脑皮层来实现‘一顾倾人城，再顾倾人国’的。” 第二个惊奇之处是，大脑内因恋爱而活跃的区域不同于因其他情绪而活跃的区域，例如，恐惧和愤怒。 被恋爱“咬住”的那部份大脑还包括负责内脏感觉和因可卡因等毒品生成快感的区域。因此，因此，深坠爱河的恋人们的大脑，并非类同于经历强烈情绪波动的人，倒更接近那些鼻吸可卡因的瘾君子。换句话说，爱情使用的是在成瘾过程中被激活的神经机制。“严格地讲, 我们成瘾于爱情，”Young博士评述道，“就如同草原田鼠”。
It seems possible, then, that animals which form strong social bonds do so because of the location of their receptors for vasopressin and oxytocin. Evolution acts on the distribution of these receptors to generate social or non-social versions of a vole. The more receptors located in regions associated with reward, the more rewarding social interactions become. Social groups, and society itself, rely ultimately on these receptors. But for evolution to be able to act, there must be individual variation between mice, and between men. And this has interesting implications.
Last year, Steven Phelps, who works at Emory with Dr Young, found great diversity in the distribution of vasopressin receptors between individual prairie voles. He suggests that this variation contributes to individual differences in social behaviour—in other words, some voles will be more faithful than others. Meanwhile, Dr Young says that he and his colleagues have found a lot of variation in the vasopressin-receptor gene in humans. “We may be able to do things like look at their gene sequence, look at their promoter sequence, to genotype people and correlate that with their fidelity,” he muses.
在Emory大学与Young博士一同工作的Steven Phelps去年发现，草原田鼠各个体间抗利尿激素受体的脑内分布，存在着很大的差异。他提出，正是这一变异导致了社会行为的个体差异，换句话说，一些田鼠将会比另一些更加忠诚。同时，Young博士说他和同事已经发现人类抗利尿激素受体基因的许多变异。“我们或许能够做些类似于察看人们的基因序列，察看他们的启动序列等工作，在此基础上对人们进行基因型分类, 并把分类结果与他们的忠诚度关联起来”，Young博士作如是想。
It has already proved possible to tinker with this genetic inheritance, with startling results. Scientists can increase the expression of the relevant receptors in prairie voles, and thus strengthen the animals' ability to attach to partners. And in 1999, Dr Young led a team that took the prairie-vole receptor gene and inserted it into an ordinary (and therefore promiscuous) mouse. The transgenic mouse thus created was much more sociable to its mate.
事实已经证明可能对这种基因遗传进行修补，并产生了令人吃惊的结果。科学家能增加草原田鼠相关受体的表达，以加强动物对同伴的依附能力。而且在 1999 年，Young博士带领了一只研究队伍，他们将草原田鼠的受体基因插入到一只平常(因此成为杂乱的) 老鼠的体内，由此产生的转基因鼠对它的配偶表现得更为友善。
Love, love me do / 爱我，真心地爱我