Rapid and robust olfactory conditioning with milk before suckling experience: promotion of nipple attachment in the newborn rat

Behav Neurosci. 2000 Jun;114(3):484-95.


An olfactory conditioning paradigm tested the hypothesis that newborn rats are able to learn about events associated with their first experience with milk as early as 3-5 hr after birth. Exposure to lemon odor (conditioned stimulus, [CS]) paired with intraoral milk infusions (unconditioned stimulus, [US]) resulted in strong conditioning: In the presence of the CS, sustained attachment occurred to an empty nipple as if it provided milk, whereas pups in control conditions showed little attachment. A single CS-US pairing was sufficient for strong conditioning, which was evident with a trace interval as long as 60 s. Conditioning was robust enough to promote attachment to a nipple providing saline, which is aversive to the newborn rat, and comparably strong conditioning occurred with sucrose or saccharin as the US. These findings suggest that olfactory conditioning has the potential to modify suckling behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / psychology*
  • Association Learning
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Milk
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Smell*
  • Sucking Behavior*