Maternal care associates with differences in morphological complexity in the medial preoptic area
The medial preoptic area (MPOA) is implicated in the expression of maternal behavior including the frequency of pup licking/grooming (LG) in the rat. Cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) responsive element-binding protein (CREB) is a transcription factor that regulates the expression of many genes. We found that lactating rats that are more maternal towards their pups showing increased licking/grooming (i.e. high-LG mothers) had increased levels of phosphorylated CREB (pCREB) in the MPOA following a nursing bout and they displayed a reduced population of greater dendritic complexity index (DCI) neurons compared to less maternal rats showing decreased licking/grooming (i.e. low-LG mothers). CREB overexpression in MPOA neuronal cultures associated with a decrease in dendritic complexity and an increase in the expression of Rem2 and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), genes implicated in dendritic pruning. While there were no differences in Rem2 expression in virgin high and low-LG female rats, Rem2 was significantly increased in the MPOA of high-LG compared to low-LG lactating rats. CREB activity in the MPOA associates with maternal behavior and reduced dendritic complexity possibly by increasing Rem2 expression.