Use of fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to assess phasic dopamine release in rat models of early postpartum maternal behavior and neglect

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Maternal behavior (MB) is a complex response to infant cues, orchestrated by postpartum neurophysiology. Although mesolimbic dopamine contributes toward MB, little is known about real-time dopamine fluctuations during the postpartum period. Thus, we used fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to measure individual dopamine transients in the nucleus accumbens of early postpartum rats and compared them with dopamine transients in virgins and in postpartum females exposed to cocaine during pregnancy, which is known to disrupt MB. We hypothesized that dopamine transients are normally enhanced postpartum and support MB. In anesthetized rats, electrically evoked dopamine release was larger and clearance was faster in postpartum females than in virgins and gestational cocaine exposure blocked the change in clearance. In awake rats, control mothers showed more dopamine transients than cocaine-exposed mothers during MB. Salient pup-produced stimuli may contribute toward differences in maternal phasic dopamine by evoking dopamine transients; supporting the feasibility of this hypothesis, urine composition (glucose, ketones, and leukocytes) differed between unexposed and cocaine-exposed infants. These data, resulting from the novel application of fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to models of MB, support the hypothesis that phasic dopamine signaling is enhanced postpartum. Future studies with additional controls can delineate which aspects of gestational cocaine reduce dopamine clearance and transient frequency.

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