Previous research suggests that the maternal medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) may play a role in maternal care and that cocaine sensitization before pregnancy can affect neuronal activity within this region. The present work was carried out to test whether the mPFC does actually play a role in the expression of maternal behaviors in the rats and to understand what specific behaviors this cortical area may modulate. In the first experiment, tetrodotoxin (TTX) was used to chemically inactivate the mPFC during tests for maternal behavior latencies. Lactating rats were tested on postpartum days 7-9. The results of this first experiment indicate that there is a large effect of TTX-induced inactivation on retrieval behavior latencies. TTX nearly abolished the expression of maternal retrieval of pups without significantly impairing locomotor activity. In the second experiment, GABA-mediated inhibition was used to test maternal behavior latencies and durations of maternal and other behaviors in postpartum dams. In agreement with experiment 1, it was observed that dams capable of retrieving are rendered incapable by inhibition in the mPFC. GABA-mediated inhibition in the mPFC largely reduced retrieval without altering other indices of maternal care and non-specific behavior such as ambulation time, self-grooming, and inactivity. Moreover, in both experiments, dams were able to establish contact with pups within seconds. The overall results indicate that the mPFC may play an active role in modulating maternal care, particularly retrieval behavior. External factors that affect the function of the frontal cortical site may result in significant impairments in maternal goal-directed behavior as reported in our earlier work.
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