Maternal care, hippocampal synaptogenesis and cognitive development in rats

Nat Neurosci. 2000 Aug;3(8):799-806. doi: 10.1038/77702.


We report that variations in maternal care in the rat promote hippocampal synaptogenesis and spatial learning and memory through systems known to mediate experience-dependent neural development. Thus, the offspring of mothers that show high levels of pup licking and grooming and arched-back nursing showed increased expression of NMDA receptor subunit and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) mRNA, increased cholinergic innervation of the hippocampus and enhanced spatial learning and memory. A cross-fostering study provided evidence for a direct relationship between maternal behavior and hippocampal development, although not all neonates were equally sensitive to variations in maternal care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Grooming
  • Hippocampus / growth & development
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / genetics*
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate