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Horm Behav. 2004 Sep;46(3):284-302.

Olfactory regulation of maternal behavior in mammals.

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Equipe Comportement, Station PRC, UMR 6175 INRA/CNRS/Université de Tours/Haras Nationaux, 37380, Nouzilly, France.


In mammals, olfactory cues are extensively used in many aspects of maternal care to ensure the coordination of mother-infant interactions and consequently the normal development of the offspring. Outside the period of parturition and lactation, when the young are not a behavioral priority, olfactory cues play an inhibitory role on maternal responsiveness since in most mammalian species studied so far, nonpregnant females find the odor of young aversive. On the contrary at the time of parturition, a shift in the hedonic value of infantile odors occurs so that the young now become a very potent stimulus and this sensorial processing constitutes an important part of the maternal motivational system. Moreover, infants' odors provide a basis for individual recognition by their mothers and some species (ungulates) have developed highly specialized mechanisms for processing of the infant signals. Perception of the smell of the young also regulates various aspects of maternal behavior. Dodecyl propionate, a compound released by of pup's preputial glands, has been shown to influence anogenital licking behavior, a fundamental pattern of maternal behavior in rodents. While there is no functional specificity of either the main or the accessory olfactory systems in the development of maternal behavior amongst species, it appears that only the main olfactory system is implicated when individual odor discrimination of the young is required. Neural structures, such as the main olfactory bulb, undergo profound changes when exposed to offspring odors at parturition. These changes in synaptic circuitry contribute both to maternal responsiveness to these odors, to their memorization, and to effects of long-term maternal experience.

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