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Paternal Brain

Paternal Brain

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Published by Tim Richardson
Paternal Brain
Paternal Brain

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Published by: Tim Richardson on Jun 13, 2013
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02/10/2014

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Constructing a Paternal Brain

Behavior Changes Mr. Moms: California Deer Mice Deadbeat dads: Common deer mice

Grooming pup (left); crouching over pup (right)

Although both species of mice will harm pups (infanticide) prior to paternal experience, the california mice become more nurturing with pup exposure whereas the common deer mice show no changes in nurturing behaviors toward pups. In this particular study we staged “family reunions” in which the males were separated from their families or cage-mates (depending on the group) and reunited with the pups after 24 hours. California mice with paternal experience increased their attention toward the pups.

Avoiding pup (left); cautiously approaching pup (right)

Brain Changes in Social Hormone Circuits
Even before pup exposure, california mice have more brain cells responsive to two social neuropeptides [oxytocin (left) and vasopressin (right)] than common deer mice. The more dramatic increases in vasopressin suggest that this neuropeptide is especially relevant for paternal responses
Oxytocin-responsive cell bodies and fibers in california deer mouse (left) and common deer mouse (right) Vasopressin-responsive cell bodies and fibers in california deer mouse (left) and common deer mouse (right)

Brain Changes in Learning Circuits

NEUROPLASTICITY: The yellow dots represent new cells born in an area of the brain involved in learning and memory known as the hippocampus; pup-exposed/foster dads had more than virgins and biological fathers. It is thought that the biological fathers may have had new cells generated during his mate’s pregnancy.

ACTIVATED LEARNING CIRCUITS: When performing a learning task, more cells in the hippocampus are activated in the dads. Dark spots indicate activated cells

Brain Changes in Learning Circuit, Continued
When mice with differing paternal experience were exposed to cognitive training in a spatial task, more of the cells in the hippocampus of the california mice showed evidence of nestin (dark staining) activity-- which is a filament protein associated with restructuring mature neurons.

Mr. Moms: California Deer Mice

Deadbeat dads: Common deer mice

From Father to Good Samaritan
For this study, we stepped up the demands to see if a male mouse would direct their attention to an unfamiliar pup that was placed In an enclosure (the pup tent). The results suggested that the california mice with paternal experience were socially attentive toward the pup whereas the deer mouse exhibited increased social tentativeness with increased pup exposure.

THE PUP-TENT TEST: When a pup was placed in this enclosure, the californicus males (left) spent more time orienting toward the pup than the deer mouse (right)

Focusing on just one of the behaviors, self-grooming (above), the california mice with pup experience spent less time focusing on themselves while the deer mice spent more time self-grooming. These results suggested that paternal experience shifted the focus from self to others in the California mice.

Can the nonpaternal common deer mice be transformed to nurturing fathers or caregivers?
Even though pup exposure failed to change the behavior of the common deer mouse during our testing period, some brain changes were observed. For example, vasopressin fibers were altered toward the nurturing profile with pup exposure. Shown below are the vasopressin fibers extending beyond their original brain area to an area toward an area known as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, involved in emotional processing. It’s unclear whether these animals would exhibit nurturing behavior toward offspring with prolonged pup exposure, but it appears that the neural architecture for such behavior is altered with pup exposure.

Biological fathers

Pup-exposed virgin males

Virgin males with no pup exposure

Although virgin maniculatus males had less evidence of vasopressin fibers than virgin california mice, however fibers increased with pup exposure.

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