Juvenile rats can exhibit maternal behavior after being exposed continuously to rat pups, a process called sensitization. Maternal behavior in juveniles is robust and is similar to adult maternal behavior (Mayer and Rosenblatt  Dev. Psychobiol. 12:407-424; Gray and Chesley  J. Comp. Psychol. 98:91-99). In this study, immunocytochemical detection of the protein products of two immediate-early genes, c-fos and fosB, was used as a tool to identify forebrain neuronal populations involved in the maternal behavior of 27-day-old juvenile rats compared with 60-day-old adults. To sensitize them, rats were exposed continuously to foster pups. Once they were maternal, they were isolated from pups overnight, reexposed to pups for 2 hours, and then killed. Nonmaternal control animals also were isolated overnight and were either reexposed to pups for 2 hours or kept isolated from pups before killing. The lateral habenula (LH) was the only area in which both maternal juveniles and maternal adults had more c-Fos-immunoreactive (- Ir)neurons compared with controls. In maternal adults, the number of neurons that expressed c-Fos and FosB immunoreactivity increased in the medial preoptic area (MPO) and the ventral bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTv), whereas the dorsal bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTd) and the medial and cortical nuclei of the amygdala (MEA and COA, respectively) had increases only in the number of neurons that expressed c-Fos immunoreactivity. In contrast, juveniles, whether or not they were maternal, had the same number of c-Fos-IR and FosB-Ir neurons in all these areas. The adult-like increase in the number of c-Fos-Ir neurons found in maternal juveniles suggests that the juvenile LH participates in the neural circuit that supports maternal behavior in an adult-like manner. The lack of c-fos or fosB induction in the MPO, BSTv, BSTd, COA, or MEA of maternal juveniles compared with maternal adults may reflect the immaturity of these brain regions in juvenile rats. Exactly what this immaturity consists of and when the responses of these regions become adult-like remain to be determined.
|Number of pages||34|
|Journal||Journal of Comparative Neurology|
|Publication status||Published - Jan 3 2000|
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