Postpartum changes in affect-related behavior and VTA dopamine neuron activity in rats.


Departments of Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, United States of America. Electronic address: [Email]


The onset of motherhood is accompanied by alterations in emotional and affective behaviors. Many new mothers experience transient and mild depressive symptoms that typically resolve spontaneously (i.e. postpartum blues) but increase the risk for postpartum depression (PPD). There is little data regarding the neural adaptations occurring in response to parturition and shortly after birth that may be associated with these affective changes. Although the dopamine (DA) system is involved in affect, maternal motivation and PPD, little is known about postpartum DA function. We compared affective behavior in virgin and postpartum adult female rats at early and late time points. In vivo extracellular recordings of VTA DA neurons were performed to evaluate 3 parameters: number of active DA neurons (i.e. population activity), firing rate, and firing pattern. Compared with virgins, postpartum rats exhibited increased anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus maze at 1-day postpartum; reduced social motivation at 1- and 3-days postpartum, reduced anxiety-like behavior in the novelty suppressed feeding test throughout the first week postpartum and increased forced swim test immobility at 1-day postpartum. 1- and 3-day postpartum females exhibited attenuated VTA population activity without changes in firing rate or pattern. None of these effects were observed in late postpartum females when compared with virgins. These data suggest that parturition induces time-dependent changes in a subset of affect-related behaviors and DA function during the postpartum period in rodents, with early postpartum females exhibiting depression-related phenotypes (i.e. low social motivation, higher immobility, blunted DA activity).


Dopamine,Electrophysiology,Maternal,Postpartum,Social behavior,

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