Maternal behavior in the rabbit is restricted to a brief nursing period every day. Previously, we demonstrated that this event induces daily rhythms of Period1 (PER1) protein, the product of the clock gene Per1, in oxytocinergic and dopaminergic populations in the hypothalamus of lactating rabbit does. This is significant for the periodic production and ejection of milk, but the activation of other areas of the brain has not been explored. Here, we hypothesised that daily suckling would induce a rhythm in the preoptic area, lateral septum, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, which are important areas for the expression of maternal behavior in mammals, including the rabbit. To this end, we analysed PER1 expression in those areas through a complete 24-h cycle at lactation day 7. Does were scheduled to nurse during either the day at 10:00 h [zeitgeber time (ZT)03] or the night at 02:00 h (ZT19). Non-pregnant, non-lactating females were used as controls. In contrast to control females, lactating does showed a clear, significant rhythm of PER1 that shifted in parallel with the timing of nursing in the preoptic area and lateral septum. We determined that the maximal expression of PER1 at 8 h after scheduled nursing decreased significantly at 24 and 48 h after the absence of suckling. This effect was more pronounced in the lateral septum than in the preoptic area. We conclude that daily suckling is a powerful stimulus inducing rhythmic activity in brain structures in the rabbit that appear to form part of a maternal entrainable circuit.
Maternal behavior in the rabbit is restricted to a brief nursing period every day. Here we demonstrated that this event induces daily rhythms of PER1 in the preoptic area and lateral septum, which are important for the control of maternal behavior. This effect was not observed in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Skipping of nursing bouts eliminates this effect. We propose that preoptic area and lateral septum are part of a circuit that supports maternal behavior in the rabbit.