Converging evidence suggests that the motivation to seek cocaine during the postpartum period is significantly impacted by the competing incentives of offspring, a stimulus unique to this life stage. In the present study, the functional role of the medial preoptic area (mPOA), a critical site involved in maternal responsiveness, on processing incentive value of pup-associated cues and influencing response allocation for pup- over cocaine-associated environments was investigated using a concurrent pup/cocaine choice conditioned place preference (CPP) paradigm. Early postpartum females with bilateral guide cannulae aimed into the mPOA or into anatomical control sites were conditioned, from postpartum days (PPD) 4 to 7, to associate different uniquely featured environments with pups or cocaine. CPP was tested on PPD8 following intra-mPOA infusions of either 2% bupivacaine or saline vehicle. In two additional experiments, the effects of intra-mPOA infusions of bupivacaine on expression of conditioned responding induced by environments associated with either pups or cocaine were examined separately. Transient inactivation of the mPOA selectively blocked the conditioned preferences for pup-associated environments, significantly contrasting the robust pup-CPP found in non-surgical and intra-mPOA vehicle-treated females. In contrast, mPOA inactivation failed to alter cocaine-CPP in postpartum females. When given a choice between environments associated with pups or cocaine, transient functional inactivation of the mPOA altered choice behavior, biasing the preference of females toward cocaine-associated environments, such that almost all preferred cocaine- and none the pup-associated option. The anatomical specificity was revealed when inactivation of adjacent regions to the mPOA did not affect CPP responses for pups. The findings support a critical role for the mPOA in mediating pup-seeking behavior, and further suggest that the competing properties of pups over alternative incentives, including drugs of abuse, rely on mPOA integrity to provide relevant pup-related information to the circuitry underlying the choice behavior between pups and alternative stimuli.
(c) 2010 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.