Neural and environmental factors impacting maternal behavior differences in high- versus low- novelty-seeking rats.

SM Clinton; TA Bedrosian; AD Abraham; SJ Watson; H Akil
Horm Behav. 2010.


Selective breeding of rats exhibiting differences in novelty-induced locomotion revealed that this trait predicts several differences in emotional behavior. Bred High Responders (bHRs) show exaggerated novelty-induced locomotion, aggression, and psychostimulant self-administration, compared to bred Low Responders (bLRs), which are inhibited and prone to anxiety- and depression-like behavior. Our breeding studies highlight the heritability of the bHR/bLR phenotypes, although environmental factors like maternal care also shape some aspects of these traits. We previously reported that HR vs. LR mothers act differently, but it was unclear whether their behaviors were genetically driven or influenced by their pups. The present study (a) used cross-fostering to evaluate whether the bHR/bLR maternal styles are inherent to mothers and/or are modulated by pups; and (b) assessed oxytocin and oxytocin receptor mRNA expression to examine possible underpinnings of bHR/bLR maternal differences. While bHR dams exhibited less maternal behavior than bLRs during the dark/active phase, they were very attentive to pups during the light phase, spending greater time passive nursing and in contact with pups compared to bLRs. Cross-fostering only subtly changed bHR and bLR dams' behavior, suggesting that their distinct maternal styles are largely inherent to the mothers. We also found elevated oxytocin mRNA levels in the supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus in bHR versus bLR dams, which may play some role in driving their behavior differences. Overall these studies shed light on the interplay between the genetics of mothers and infants in driving differences in maternal style.