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Neuroscience. 2007 Oct 12;149(1):53-67. Epub 2007 Jul 25.

Reproductive experience alters hippocampal neurogenesis during the postpartum period in the dam.

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  • 1Program in Neuroscience, Department of Psychology and Brain Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 2136 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4.


Pregnancy and the postpartum period are a time of maximal neural and behavioral plasticity. Recent work has shown that hippocampus-dependent learning and memory performance and hippocampus morphology are affected by motherhood and reproductive experience (number of times pregnant and given birth). Adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is influenced by steroid hormones such as estradiol and corticosterone, which fluctuate during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Thus, it is possible that hippocampal neurogenesis may be affected by motherhood and reproductive experience. The present study aimed to investigate the role of reproductive experience on hippocampal neurogenesis via cell proliferation and cell survival and to determine whether differences were due to the effect of pregnancy and/or pup-exposure alone. Four groups of female Sprague-Dawley rats were used; multiparous, primiparous, nulliparous, and nulliparous rats exposed to pups. All rats were injected with 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU) (200 mg/kg) approximately 24 h after birth/pup-exposure with age-matched controls. Rats were perfused either 24 h (Expt. 1: Cell proliferation) or 21 days (Expt. 2: Cell survival) after BrdU injection. Results show there is a significant decrease in cell proliferation in the dentate gyrus of primiparous and multiparous rats during the early postpartum period, and a decrease in cell survival in the dentate gyrus during the postpartum in primiparous rats, regardless of pup-exposure, compared with all other groups. In addition, brief pup exposure to nulliparous rats significantly increased cell proliferation and cell death in the dentate gyrus, while 22 days of pup exposure to nulliparous rats (sensitized rats) resulted in increased cell survival and cell death in the dentate gyrus. Collectively these results indicate that reproductive experience significantly affects hippocampal neurogenesis and that these effects are not due to the effect of pregnancy or pup-exposure alone.

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