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Behav Brain Res. 2010 Sep 1;212(1):84-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.03.050. Epub 2010 Apr 2.

Progesterone and maternal aggressive behavior in rats.

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Departamento de Fisiologia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Sarmento Leite 500, Porto Alegre, RS, 90050-170, Brazil.


Females usually display low levels of aggressiveness; however, during lactation, the aggressive behavior against intruders to the nest area is an important component of the maternal behavioral repertoire. The present study aimed to analyze the influence of progesterone (P4) on the maternal aggressive behavior in rats. Lactating rat were ovariectomized on the first day after delivery and, on the 6th postpartum day, aggressive behaviors against a male intruder were recorded. Also in the 6th PPD, the effects of a P4 receptor antagonist (RU 486) as well as of finasteride - which inhibits the conversion of P4 to its metabolite allopregnanolone - on the aggressive behavior of non-ovariectomized lactating rats were analyzed. Finally, plasma concentration of prolactin was measured on the 8th PPD. This study shows, for the first time, that ovariectomy just after parturition reduces some aspects of the maternal behavior (frequency of licking) and the aggressive behavior and increased plasma prolactin. On the other hand, the administration of RU486 induced a marked increase in the aggressiveness of lactating females. No changes were detected after finasteride injection. Gonadal hormones after parturition seem necessary for the development of maternal aggressive behavior. Furthermore, our results suggest that the increase in P4 levels throughout the postpartum period could be one of the causes for the natural reduction of the aggressive behavior in lactating rats.

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