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J Neurosci. 2005 Jan 5;25(1):149-56.

Pup suckling is more rewarding than cocaine: evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging and three-dimensional computational analysis.

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Center for Comparative Neuroimaging, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts 01655, USA.


Nursing has reciprocal benefits for both mother and infant, helping to promote maternal behavior and bonding. To test the "rewarding" nature of nursing, functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to map brain activity in lactating dams exposed to their suckling pups versus cocaine. Suckling stimulation in lactating dams and cocaine exposure in virgin females activated the dopamine reward system. In contrast, lactating dams exposed to cocaine instead of pups showed a suppression of brain activity in the reward system. These data support the notion that pup stimulation is more reinforcing than cocaine, underscoring the importance of pup seeking over other rewarding stimuli during lactation.

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