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J Neuroendocrinol. 2011 Apr;23(4):345-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2011.02112.x.

Oestrogen-independent, experience-induced maternal behaviour in female mice.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA.


Nulliparous female mice that have not experienced mating, pregnancy or parturition show near immediate spontaneous maternal behaviour when presented with foster pups. The fact that virgin mice display spontaneous maternal behaviour indicates that the hormonal events of pregnancy and parturition are not necessary to produce a rapid onset of maternal behaviour in mice. However, it is not known how similar maternal behaviour is between virgin and lactating mice. In the present study, we show that naturally postpartum females are faster to retrieve pups and spend more time crouching over pups than spontaneously maternal virgin females, and that these differences diminish with increased maternal experience. Moreover, 4 days of experience with pups induced pup retrieval on a novel T-maze. Furthermore, the effects of experience on subsequent maternal responsiveness are not dependent on gonadal hormones because ovariectomised females with 4 days of pup experience show pup retrieval on a novel T-maze similar to that of postpartum mice. Four days of maternal experience also induced T-maze pup retrieval in ovariectomised aromatase knockout female mice that was not significantly different from the maternal responsiveness of ovariectomised wild-type littermates. These data suggest that maternal experience can induce maternal behaviour in females that have never been exposed to oestradiol at any time in development or adulthood. Finally, ovariectomised pup-experienced females continue to retrieve pups on a novel T-maze 1 month after the initial experience, suggesting that, even in the absence of oestradiol, maternal experience produces long-lasting modifications in maternal responsiveness.

© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Neuroendocrinology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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