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Horm Behav. 2006 Mar;49(3):353-61. Epub 2005 Nov 21.

The effects of adrenalectomy and corticosterone replacement on maternal memory in postpartum rats.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, ON, Canada.


Hormones associated with parturition prime rats to behave maternally, although hormonal changes are not necessary for these behaviors to occur. Experience with pups after birth enhances maternal responsiveness after a period of isolation, creating a maternal memory. The purpose of this study was to determine the role of corticosterone in the formation of maternal memory. Adrenalectomy or sham surgeries were performed in late gestation with corticosterone or vehicle pellets being given to adrenalectomized rats. Pups were removed immediately following parturition, and half of the rats received 4 h of pup experience, while the other half received only brief pup experience associated with parturition. Ten days following pup experience, foster pups were given to all rats. Latency to become maternal and maternal behaviors on the first 2 days of re-exposure and the first two maternal days were recorded. Among adrenalectomized rats given corticosterone, 4-h experience with pups decreased maternal latency when compared to brief experience with pups. This maternal experience effect was not found in comparisons between adrenalectomized rats not given corticosterone. In addition, corticosterone decreased latencies regardless of pup experience. Corticosterone also increased maternal behavior upon initial exposure to foster pups. In conclusion, corticosterone enhanced maternal memory and initial maternal behavior in postpartum rats.

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