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Horm Behav. 2009 Sep;56(3):281-91. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.06.005. Epub 2009 Jun 16.

Effects of prolactin deficiency during the early postnatal period on the development of maternal behavior in female rats: mother's milk makes the difference.

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Centro de Investigación en Reproducción Animal, Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala, México.


During early life, prolactin (PRL) ingested by the pups through the milk participates in the development of neuroendocrine, immunological and reproductive systems. The present study tested whether a deficiency in PRL in the dam's milk during early lactation affected the offspring in terms of the maternal responsiveness in the sensitization paradigm and behavioral response to a novel environment in the offspring. Thus, lactating rats were injected (sc) on postnatal days (PND) 2-5 with bromocriptine (125 microg/day), bromocriptine+ovine PRL (125 microg+300 microg/day), or vehicle. As juveniles (at PND 24) or adults (PND 90-100), one female from each litter was exposed to 5 foster pups continuously for 8 days and their maternal responsiveness was recorded. Female offspring were also tested in an open field arena. Adult, but not juvenile, female offspring of bromocriptine-treated mothers showed an increased latency to become maternal, in comparison to latencies displayed by the offspring of control mothers. Furthermore, the proportion of adult, but not juvenile, offspring of bromocriptine-treated mothers that became maternal was lower than that showed by the offspring of vehicle-treated mothers. In comparison to female offspring of vehicle-treated mothers, female offspring of bromocriptine-treated mothers spent less time hovering over the pups (as juvenile females), body licking (as both juvenile and adult females), and in close proximity to pups (as adult females) during the maternal behavior test. Simultaneous administration of ovine PRL and bromocriptine reversed almost all the negative effects of bromocriptine. These data suggest that maternally-derived PRL participates during the early postnatal period in the development of neural systems that underlie the control of maternal behavior.

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