Species and individual differences in juvenile female alloparental care are associated with oxytocin receptor density in the striatum and the lateral septum

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Abstract

The neuropeptide oxytocin has been implicated in the regulation of affiliative behavior and maternal responsiveness in several mammalian species. Rodent species vary considerably in the expression of juvenile alloparental behavior. For example, alloparental behavior is spontaneous in juvenile female prairie voles (˜20 days of age), takes 1–3 days of pup exposure to develop in juvenile rats, and is nearly absent in juvenile mice and meadow voles. Here, we tested the hypothesis that species differences in pup responsiveness in juvenile rodents are associated with oxytocin receptor (OTR) density in specific brain regions. We found that OTR density in the nucleus accumbens (NA) is highest in juvenile prairie voles, intermediate in juvenile rats, and lowest in juvenile mice and meadow voles. In the caudate putamen (CP), OTR binding was highest in prairie voles, intermediate in rats and meadow voles, and lowest in mice. In contrast, the lateral septum (LS) shows an opposite pattern, with OTR binding being high in mice and meadow voles and low in prairie voles and rats. Thus, alloparental responsiveness in juvenile rodents is positively correlated with OTR density in the NA and CP and negatively correlated with OTR density in the LS. We then investigated whether a similar receptor–behavior relationship exists among juvenile female prairie voles by correlating individual variation in alloparental behavior with variation in OTR density. The time spent adopting crouching postures, the most distinctive component of alloparental behavior in juveniles, was positively correlated with OTR density in the NA (r = 0.47) and CP (r = 0.45) and negatively correlated with OTR density in the lateral septum (r = −0.53). Thus, variation in OTR density in the NA, CP, and LS may underlie both species and individual differences in alloparental care in rodents.

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