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Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2011 Jul 1;35(5):1192-204. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.09.017. Epub 2010 Oct 1.

The neuroendocrinology of primate maternal behavior.

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Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.


In nonhuman primates and humans, similar to other mammals, hormones are not strictly necessary for the expression of maternal behavior, but nevertheless influence variation in maternal responsiveness and parental behavior both within and between individuals. A growing number of correlational and experimental studies have indicated that high circulating estrogen concentrations during pregnancy increase maternal motivation and responsiveness to infant stimuli, while effects of prepartum or postpartum estrogens and progestogens on maternal behavior are less clear. Prolactin is thought to play a role in promoting paternal and alloparental care in primates, but little is known about the relationship between this hormone and maternal behavior. High circulating cortisol levels appear to enhance arousal and responsiveness to infant stimuli in young, relatively inexperienced female primates, but interfere with the expression of maternal behavior in older and more experienced mothers. Among neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, preliminary evidence indicates that oxytocin and endogenous opioids affect maternal attachment to infants, including maintenance of contact, grooming, and responses to separation. Brain serotonin affects anxiety and impulsivity, which in turn may affect maternal behaviors such as infant retrieval or rejection of infants' attempts to make contact with the mother. Although our understanding of the neuroendocrine correlates of primate maternal behavior has grown substantially in the last two decades, very little is known about the mechanisms underlying these effects, e.g., the extent to which these mechanisms may involve changes in perception, emotion, or cognition.

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