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We tested whether the sex pheromones that stimulate courtship clasping in male roughskin newts do so, at least in part, by amplifying the somatosensory signals that directly trigger the motor pattern associated with clasping and, if so, whether that amplification is dependent on endogenous vasotocin (VT). Female olfactory stimuli increased the number of action potentials recorded in the medulla of males in response to tactile stimulation of the cloaca, which triggers the clasp motor reflex, as well as to tactile stimulation of the snout and hindlimb. That enhancement was blocked by exposing the medulla to a V1a receptor antagonist before pheromone exposure. However, the antagonist did not affect medullary responses to tactile stimuli in the absence of pheromone exposure, suggesting that pheromones amplify somatosensory signals by inducing endogenous VT release. The ability of VT to couple sensory systems together in response to social stimulation could allow this peptide to induce variable behavioural outcomes, depending on the immediate context of the social interaction and thus on the nature of the associated stimuli that are amplified. If widespread in vertebrates, this mechanism could account for some of the behavioural variability associated with this and related peptides both within and across species. © 2008 The Royal Society.