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J Neuroendocrinol. 2011 Nov;23(11):1009-19. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2011.02184.x.

A bold view of the lactating brain: functional magnetic resonance imaging studies of suckling in awake dams.

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Department of Psychiatry, The McKnight Brain Institute, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL 32610-0256, USA.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been used to investigate the responsiveness of the maternal rat brain to pup-suckling under various experimental paradigms. Our research employing the lactating rat model has explored the cortical sensory processing of pup stimuli and the effect of suckling on the brain's reward system. Suckling was observed to increase blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal intensity in the midbrain, striatum and prefrontal cortex, which are areas that receive prominent dopaminergic inputs. The BOLD activation of the reward system occurs in parallel with the activation of extensive cortical sensory areas. The observed regions include the olfactory cortex, auditory cortex and gustatory cortex, and could correspond to cortical representations of pup odours, vocalisations and taste that are active during lactation. Activation patterns within reward regions are consistent with past research on maternal motivation and we explore the possibility that exposure to drugs of abuse might be disruptive of maternal neural responses to pups, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. Our ongoing fMRI studies support and extend past research on the maternal rat brain and its functional neurocircuitry.

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