11:37pm Monday 16 October 2017

Exposure to Young Triggers New Neuron Creation in Females Exhibiting Maternal Behavior

North Grafton, Mass.,  – Maternal behavior itself can trigger the development of new neurons in the maternal brain independent of whether the female was pregnant or has nursed, according to a study released by researchers at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. These findings performed in adult, virgin rats were published in Brain Research Bulletin and are available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.brainresbull.2009.08.011.

In the study, virgin, or nulliparous, rats were exposed to foster pups each day until they began to exhibit maternal behavior, including crouching over the young, grouping them, or retrieving them back to the nest. Data from the study showed that the nulliparous rats exposed to pups have increased numbers of new neurons.
 
The research was undertaken by Cummings School Department of Biomedical Sciences researchers Miyako Furuta and Robert Bridges, who is the head of the Cummings School’s reproduction and neurobiology section.
 
Previous research has found that exposure to young can stimulate maternal behavior not only in rats, but also mice, hamsters, monkeys, and even humans. Increased creation of new neurons, or neurogenesis, has also been shown during pregnancy and lactation in rodents and associated with maternal behavior, but studies analyzing neurogenesis in nulliparous animals exhibiting  maternal behavior had not been done. The area of the brain that was the focus of the present study was the subventricular region— a region involved in the production of cells that affect odor recognition and possibly recognition of young. Bridges and Furuta found increased numbers of new neurons in the subventricular zone in adult, nulliparous rats that behaved maternally compared with numbers in subjects that either were not exposed to young or exposed to young, but did not behave maternally.
                                                                                                                                              
What stimulates increased new neuron production in the nulliparous mothers is not known. One possibility is that the hormone prolactin, which stimulates both the onset of maternal behavior as well as production of neurons during pregnancy, may play a role in the production of new neurons in nulliparous females exhibiting maternal behavior.   However, this possibility remains to be investigated. A second possibility is that stimulation received from the young themselves may, in fact, play a crucial role in stimulating maternal neuron production.
 
“As with all scientific studies, these findings trigger more questions than answers,” said Dr. Robert Bridges, section head of reproduction and neurobiology at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “Next, we hope to determine what role this neurogenesis plays in terms of the female’s behavior and physiological processes. Where do these new cells migrate to within the brain and what do they do? For example, do they affect how a female subsequently perceives her young through recognition of baby odors?  These are the questions we hope to answer.”
 
The study was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant.
 
In addition to clinical research, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University receives National Institutes of Health funding for basic science research in four major areas: Bridges’ reproduction and neurobiology section, infectious diseases, pulmonology, and liver/gastrointestinal function. For more information, please visit www.tufts.edu/vet/research
 
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University
Founded in 1978 in North Grafton, Mass., Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is internationally esteemed for academic programs that impact society and the practice of veterinary medicine; three hospitals and two clinics that combined treat more than 80,000 animals each year; and groundbreaking research that benefits animal, public, and environmental health.
About Tufts University
Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.
Contact:
Thomas Keppeler
508-839-7910
tom.keppeler@tufts.edu

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