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Nutr Neurosci. 2013 Mar;16(2):69-77. doi: 10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000032. Epub 2012 Aug 9.

Perinatal thiamine deficiency-induced spontaneous abortion and pup-killing responses in rat dams.

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Université de Cocody, UFR Biosciences, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.



The current study attempts to determine whether thiamine (B1 vitamin) deficiency and chronic alcohol-related thiamine-deficient (TD) status, disturb maternal behavior towards pups.


During gestation and lactation, Wistar rat dams were exposed to the following treatments: (i) prenatal TD dams; (ii) perinatal TD dams; (iii) postnatal TD dams; (iv) 12% alcohol/water drinking mothers; (v) ad libitum control dams. Pair-feeding treatments controlled malnutrition related to thiamine deficiency; (vi) prenatal pair-fed (PF) dams; (vii) perinatal PF dams; (viii) postnatal PF dams and included also the control of alcohol consummation: (ix) PF saccharose dams. Dams were observed for gestation outcome and for apparent disorders of the maternal behavior related to the pups at parturition.


From the nine experimental groups studied, only pre- and perinatal TD dams exhibited spontaneous abortion (33.36 and 41.66%, respectively) followed by pups-killing responses where, respectively, 4 dams/7 (57.14%) and 5 dams/7 (71.43%) showed disruption of maternal behavior and appearance of cannibalism towards pups which all were killed within 48 hours after parturition. Spontaneous abortion and pup-killing responses were not observed in the dams of any other experimental group, suggesting that perinatal disturbances of hormonal factors underlay these maternal disorders.


Previous studies reported that thiamine deficiency-induced degeneration of dopamine neurons may be related to mouse-killing aggression in rats. The present study suggests that perinatal thiamine deficiency-induced alteration of dopaminergic neurons in maternal brain could be a trigger factor of pup-killing responses. Central dopamine and oxytocin have been strongly associated with both the onset and maintenance of maternal behavior and the regulation of maternal aggressiveness as well. Our studies suggest that estrogen control oxytocin levels in brain structures of pregnancy-terminated rats via dopamine transmission. Thiamine may modulate cAMP/Ca2+ -dependent estradiol-triggered responses which in turn control dopamine synthesis. Consequently, thiamine deficiency induced perinatally triggers pup-killing responses in pregnancy-terminated rats by the following toxic effects: (i) disturbances of estrogen production and/or release affecting dopamine synthesis; (ii) alterations of dopamine inhibition on central oxytocinergic system-related maternal aggressiveness. Likewise, our results indicate also that perinatal thiamine deficiency alone induces spontaneous abortion, reduces litter size, and lowers birth weight, which together suggest changing in the fetoplacental estrogen receptor alpha/progesterone receptor A ratio during gestation, via autocrine/paracrine regulation disturbances. Those hypotheses should be confirmed by further investigations.

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