Oxytocin Neurons Enable Social Transmission of Maternal Behaviour
Mammals have a strong learning ability, and many learning behaviors are transmitted to young individuals through old individuals in the population. So, can maternal behavior also be transmitted in a population? And if so, what are the social transmission mechanisms for motherhood?
Recently, researchers from New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine published a research paper titled: Oxytocin neurons enable social transmission of maternal behaviour in the top international academic journal Nature.
This study shows that female rats that have never bred or bred can complete the same parenting task after observing the parenting behavior of another female with cubs. This observation can lead to the production of oxytocin in the brains of unmated female mice, and biochemically shape their maternal behavior even before they have their own cubs.
Social interactions, such as forming a spouse and raising children, are fundamental aspects of animal and human behavior. Parental care is especially important and is therefore thought to be at least partially innate or induced after mating. Of course, maternal behavior can also be learned from experience. For example, in primates, including humans, individuals with no child-rearing experience can learn how to take care of their children by observing experienced individuals.
Oxytocin is an important molecular signal of maternal behavior. In mammals, the oxytocin released by the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus is related to childbirth and lactation. In addition, oxytocin works in the brain to increase the salience of social messages and enable "alloparental parenting" in mice.
In this study, the research team described a behavior they called "unseen before": Researchers kept unmated female mice, newly-born female mice and pups in a nest. Within 24 hours, these unmated female mice began to imitate the behavior of the female mice and gathered their pups into the nest. Even if the female rat is not there.
Not only that, the unmated female rats will also start to retrieve the pups after "observing" the mother through the transparent plastic window without direct contact with the experienced mother.
The research team also measured the brain electrical activity of unmated female rats during this period and later when they themselves became mothers. The researchers found that in both cases, the cry of the young mice stimulated the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the female mice to secrete oxytocin. In contrast, chemical methods are used to block any visual, auditory, or oxytocin-producing PVN nerve pathways, and make unmated female mice unable to learn to care for pups.
Professor Robert Froemke, the corresponding author of this study and a senior researcher at New York University, said, this study showed that in mice, the best way to be a mother is to observe and learn from experienced mothers. In light of these evidences, we believe that similar mechanisms also work in human mothers.
In fact, the findings of this study in mice not only explain some previously undiscovered behavioral mechanisms, but also provide scientific evidence for the benefits of parenting courses observed in humans. Professor Robert Froemke said that their next step is to study whether there is the same tutoring and learning relationship between male rats and male rats.
All in all, this research redefines the role of oxytocin in brain function-including powerful and complex social network activities, forcing the brain to focus, and adapting to the environment at the time. More importantly, this also suggests that oxytocin may be used to treat social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and even psychological problems of child abuse.
More controversially, reports of child abuse have become more common in recent years as social pressures have soared, For those patients who tend to abuse children, can they be treated appropriately with oxytocin to alleviate or even reverse this social problem?
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Thesis link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03814-7