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Front Neuroendocrinol. 2016 Jul;42:1-17. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2016.05.002. Epub 2016 May 13.

Genetic and neuroendocrine regulation of the postpartum brain.

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Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA; Neuroscience Training Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA.


Changes in expression of hundreds of genes occur during the production and function of the maternal brain that support a wide range of processes. In this review, we synthesize findings from four microarray studies of different maternal brain regions and identify a core group of 700 maternal genes that show significant expression changes across multiple regions. With those maternal genes, we provide new insights into reward-related pathways (maternal bonding), postpartum depression, social behaviors, mental health disorders, and nervous system plasticity/developmental events. We also integrate the new genes into well-studied maternal signaling pathways, including those for prolactin, oxytocin/vasopressin, endogenous opioids, and steroid receptors (estradiol, progesterone, cortisol). A newer transcriptional regulation model for the maternal brain is provided that incorporates recent work on maternal microRNAs. We also compare the top 700 genes with other maternal gene expression studies. Together, we highlight new genes and new directions for studies on the postpartum brain.


Addiction; Depression; Maternal; Mental health; MicroRNA; Oxytocin; Postpartum; Prolactin; Reward; Social behavior

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