Limbic brain activation for maternal acoustic perception and responding is different in mothers and virgin female mice.

Institute of Neurobiology, University of Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, D-89081 Ulm, Germany.
Journal of Physiology-Paris (Impact Factor: 2.35). 06/2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2012.05.006
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Mothers are primed to become maternal through hormonal changes during pregnancy and delivery of young, virgin females need experience with young for performing maternally. The activation of brain areas controlling maternal behavior can be studied by stimulus-induced expression of the immediate-early gene Fos and immunocytochemical labeling of the FOS protein in activated cells. With this technique we identified areas of the mouse limbic system stimulated by acoustically adequate or inadequate models of pup ultrasounds that, if perceived as adequate, direct the search for lost pups (phonotaxis). Behavioral observations and neural activation data suggest that adequate (50kHz long tones) and inadequate ultrasound models (50kHz short or 20kHz long tones) are differently processed in limbic areas of mothers and virgin females with 1 or 5days of pup-caring experience depending on the news value and the recognition of the stimuli: High numbers of FOS-positive cells in the medial preoptic area, lateral septum, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (mothers and virgins) relate to the salience (news value) of the perceived sounds; contextual stress may be reflected by high activation in parts of the amygdala and the ventromedial hypothalamus (virgins); high activation in the piriform cortex suggests associative learning of adequate sounds and in the entorhinal cortex remembering associations of adequate sounds with pups (virgins). Thus brain areas were differently activated in animals with maternal emotions, however different responses to pup cues depending on how they got primed to behave maternally and on how they evaluated the stimulation context.

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    ABSTRACT: Much of the literature on maternal behavior has focused on the role of infant experience and hormones in a canonical subcortical circuit for maternal motivation and maternal memory. Although early studies demonstrated that the cerebral cortex also plays a significant role in maternal behaviors, little has been done to explore what that role may be. Recent work though has provided evidence that the cortex, particularly sensory cortices, contains correlates of sensory memories of infant cues, consistent with classical studies of experience-dependent sensory cortical plasticity in non-maternal paradigms. By reviewing the literature from both the maternal behavior and sensory cortical plasticity fields, focusing on the auditory modality, we hypothesize that maternal hormones (predominantly estrogen) may act to prime auditory cortical neurons for a longer-lasting neural trace of infant vocal cues, thereby facilitating recognition and discrimination. This could then more efficiently activate the subcortical circuit to elicit and sustain maternal behavior.
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