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The neurobiology of maternal care; understanding the critical role of prolactin

51 months
Approved budget:
Dr Rosemary Brown
Health issue:
Child and youth (healthy) development
Proposal type:
Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship
Lay summary
Maternal care is critical to the survival of dependent offspring in mammals. Nurturing interactions between a mother and child are controlled by complex neural circuitry, with the medial preoptic area (MPOA) of the hypothalamus forming a critical nexus that integrates hormonal and sensory inputs into this circuitry. Recently, I have identified a critical role for the “pregnancy hormone”, prolactin, in the MPOA to induce the onset of appropriate maternal nursing behaviour immediately after the birth of offspring. My research programme aims to investigate the mechanisms by which prolactin acts on neural circuitry to facilitate the change to nurturing maternal behaviour. This proposal covers three projects that; 1) identifies prolactin-sensitive populations of neurons; 2) tests the hypothesis that prolactin modulates the brain’s reward pathways to influence maternal behaviour; and finally 3) monitors the activity of prolactin responsive neurons during normal maternal behaviour.