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ABSTRACT: Maternal aggressive behaviour, which protects the offspring from harm, is one component of maternal behaviour. Not only maternal aggression, but also maternal care and social behaviour in general, is regulated by the brain oxytocin (OXT) and vasopressin (AVP) systems. In the present study, we quantified the intensity of maternal aggression using the maternal defence test at key time points throughout pregnancy, parturition and lactation. Furthermore, we quantified changes in central OXT and arginine AVP V1a receptor (V1a-R) binding in brain regions known to be important in regulating maternal aggression, aiming to investigate whether central changes coincide with the intensity of this behaviour. The intensity of aggression was found to dramatically change over the peripartum period, with its first appearance on the day before parturition. Aggression intensity fell immediately after parturition, although it increased during days 4-7 of lactation, before almost disappearing at weaning. OXT receptor (OTR) and V1a-R binding also showed changes through the peripartum period. OTR binding was highest at parturition within the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and medial preoptic area and on days 4-7 of lactation in the lateral septum (LS) compared to any other time point during the peripartum period. OTR binding positively correlated with the peak of maternal aggression, suggesting that OXT may act in the LS to facilitate the expression of aggressive behaviour. At parturition, V1a-R binding was at its highest levels in the paraventricular nucleus and central amygdala (CeA) and, in the LS, V1a-R binding positively correlated with aggressive behaviour. V1a-R mRNA expression was also increased within the CeA at parturition. Taken together, the observed fluctuations in OTR and V1a-R binding in the neural circuitry important for regulating maternal behaviour may ensure that maternal aggression is expressed at the correct time during the peripartum period.
Journal of Neuroendocrinology 09/2011; 23(11):1113-24. · 3.33 Impact Factor