Maternal care associates with differences in morphological complexity in the medial preoptic area

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Abstract

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.

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