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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012 Mar;37(3):383-95. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.07.009. Epub 2011 Jul 30.

Mouse females devoid of exposure to males during fetal development exhibit increased maternal behavior.

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Institute for Biogenesis Research, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA.


Many sex differences can be found in the expression of aggression and parental nurturing behaviors. It is important to determine if these are modulated by prenatal conditions. Here, using assisted reproduction technologies, we generated females that were (mixed-sex) or were not (same-sex) exposed to males during fetal development, raised them by cross fostering among fosters' own female only pups to control for effects of postnatal environment, and compared their reproductive abilities and behavior. There were no differences between females from the two prenatal conditions in estrus cycle length and length of time spent at individual estrus cycle stages. Both types of females had similar ovulation efficiency and bred equally well yielding comparable litter size and progeny sex ratio. Females from the two prenatal conditions were also indistinguishable in social behavior and exhibited normal social responses towards unfamiliar females in the three-chamber social approach and social proximity tests. When urine was collected from both types of females and used as a point source in a scent-marking paradigm, exposed males showed a similar distribution and extent of urinary scent marking in response to urine from each type of female but tended to engage in higher durations of sniffing the urine from same-sex females. When females were tested in a resident-intruder paradigm 3 days after giving birth, same-sex females exhibited enhancement of pup grooming and an overall decrease of non-pup activity prior to male intruder introduction, and after introduction were more defensive as evidenced by higher rates of burying, open-mouth threat/lunges, and attacks towards the male, and decreased latencies to display these defensive behaviors. Our results suggest that females devoid of male exposure during fetal development have reproductive abilities similar to those of females from mixed-sex pregnancies, and have normal social interactions with other females. However, they exhibit hyper-maternal behavior both in terms of the care and defense of pups in front of a male intruder, and potentially produce a pheromonal milieu that renders them more attractive to males during olfactory investigations.

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