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Dev Neurobiol. 2009 Sep 1;69(10):663-73. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20726.

Paternal deprivation induces dendritic and synaptic changes and hemispheric asymmetry of pyramidal neurons in the somatosensory cortex.

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Department of Zoology and Developmental Neurobiology, Otto-von-Guericke University, Magdeburg, Germany.


Similar to maternal care, paternal care is a source of neonatal sensory stimulation, which in primates and rodents has been shown to be essential for developing structure and function of sensory cortices. The aim of our study in the biparental rodent Octodon degus was to assess the impact of paternal deprivation on dendritic and synaptic development in the somatosensory cortex. We (i) quantified the amount of paternal care in relation to total parental investment and (ii) compared dendritic and synaptic development of pyramidal neurons in the somatosensory cortex of animals raised by a single mother or by both parents. On the behavioral level we show that paternal care comprises 37% of total parent-offspring interactions, and that the somatosensory stimulation provided by the fathers primarily consists of huddling, licking/grooming, and playing. On the morphological level we found that, compared with offspring raised by both parents (mother and father), the father-deprived animals displayed significantly reduced spine numbers on the basal dendrites of pyramidal neurons. Furthermore, paternal deprivation induces hemispheric asymmetry of the dendritic morphology of somatosensory pyramidal neurons. Father-deprived animals show shorter and less complex basal dendrites in the left somatosensory cortex compared with the right hemisphere. These findings indicate that paternal deprivation results in delayed or retarded dendritic and synaptic development of somatosensory circuits.

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