Faculty Articles

Interaction between Postpartum Stage and Litter Age on Maternal Caregiving and Medial Preoptic Area Orexin

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Physiology & Behavior



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Most maternal caregiving behaviors change across lactation to match the developmental needs of the continuously aging offspring. However, it is mostly unknown whether the dams' postpartum stage or litter age is the primary driving force of these changes. In this study, postnatal day 1 and 8 litters were cross-fostered or in-fostered to postpartum day 1 or 8 dams. Five days later, undisturbed observations of maternal caregiving behaviors were performed on the subsequent two days. We found a main effect of dams' postpartum stage on the frequency that mothers spent with the pups and displayed erect postures over them (hovering over and kyphosis), although it was mostly driven by an interaction between postpartum stage and litter age: early-postpartum dams were in contact with younger litters and in erect postures more often with younger litters compared to later-postpartum dams with younger litters. Additionally, there was an interaction between postpartum stage and litter age on the litter weights because older litters living with later-postpartum dams were heavier than older litters living with early-postpartum dams. There was also an interaction between postpartum stage and litter age on the dams' bodyweight, with early-postpartum dams living with younger litters weighing the least and later-postpartum dams living with younger litters weighing the most. Because activity of the neuropeptide, orexin, within the medial preoptic area (mPOA) has been implicated in maternal nursing and other caregiving behaviors, we measured mPOA levels of orexin-A but it was not affected by postpartum stage or litter age (nor was there an interaction). However, high orexin-A was negatively associated with the frequency of contact with pups and the display of erect postures. These results indicate that changes in caregiving across lactation are driven by endogenous factors in the dams, age-related cues they receive from offspring, and interactions between these factors.



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Peer Reviewed

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