Electrical activity of prefrontal cortex and ventral tegmental area during rat maternal behavior

Behav Processes. 2005 Sep 30;70(2):132-43. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2005.06.002.


Maternal behavior is a motivated behavior that includes pup-directed sequential motor acts. The dopaminergic (DAergic) brain systems have been proposed to play an important role in voluntary maternal acts, however, not much is known about the way these systems function during the performance of this behavior. The electroencephalogram (EEG) is a sensitive tool that allows determination of the simultaneous functioning of different structures in relation to specific cognitive processes or motor acts. The present study recorded the function of the two structures that constitute the mesoprefrontal DAergic system, ventral tegmental area (VTA) and prefrontal cortex (PFC) by EEG during the performance of various maternal behaviors. Bilateral EEG from the VTA and medial PFC (mPFC) was simultaneously recorded during typical maternal acts and was compared to that recorded during non-maternal behaviors in freely moving female rats. Three different frequency bands (6-7, 8-11, and 12-21 Hz) were obtained from principal component analysis applied to the EEG for both structures. In the left and right mPFC and VTA, absolute power (AP) of the 8-11 Hz band showed a significant increase during pup retrieval compared to the EEG during walking. In the left and right mPFC and VTA, AP of the three bands showed a significant increase during pup licking with respect to forepaw licking. No differences in the EEG were found during inactive nursing behaviors compared to the awake quiet condition. The mPFC and VTA presented characteristic EEG patterns during active maternal behaviors but not during inactive maternal behaviors. This provides electrical evidence of the involvement of these structures in the performance of maternal behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electroencephalography / veterinary
  • Female
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Dopamine / physiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*


  • Receptors, Dopamine