Maternal defense is modulated by beta adrenergic receptors in lateral septum in mice

Behav Neurosci. 2011 Jun;125(3):434-45. doi: 10.1037/a0023184.


Maternal defense (offspring protection) is a critical and highly conserved component of maternal care in mammalian systems that involves dramatic shifts in a female's behavioral response to social cues. Numerous changes occur in neuronal signaling and connectivity in the postpartum female, including decreases in norepinephrine (NE) signaling in subregions of the CNS. In this study using a strain of mice selected for maternal defense, we examined whether possible changes in NE signaling in the lateral septum (LS) could facilitate expression of maternal aggression. In separate studies that utilized a repeated measures design, mice were tested for maternal defense following intra-LS injections of either the β-adrenergic receptor agonist isoproterenol (10 μg or 30 μg) or vehicle (Experiment 1), the β-adrenergic receptor antagonist propranolol (2 μg) or vehicle (Experiment 2), or the β1-receptor antagonist, atenolol (Experiment 3). Mice were also evaluated for light-dark performance and pup retrieval. Thirty micrograms of the agonist isoproterenol significantly decreased number of attacks and time aggressive relative to vehicle without affecting pup retrieval or light-dark box performance. In contrast, the antagonist propranolol significantly increased maternal aggression (lowered latency to attack and increased total attack time) without altering light-dark box test. The β1-specific antagonist, atenolol, significantly decreased latency to attack (1 μg vs. vehicle) without altering other measures. Although the findings were identified in a unique strain of mice, the results of these studies support the hypothesis that changes in NE signaling in LS during the postpartum period contribute to the expression of offspring protection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacology
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Aggression / drug effects
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Atenolol / administration & dosage
  • Atenolol / pharmacology
  • Choice Behavior
  • Female
  • Isoproterenol / administration & dosage
  • Isoproterenol / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / drug effects
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Microinjections
  • Norepinephrine / agonists
  • Norepinephrine / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Propranolol / administration & dosage
  • Propranolol / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / physiology*
  • Septum of Brain / drug effects
  • Septum of Brain / physiology*


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • Atenolol
  • Propranolol
  • Isoproterenol
  • Norepinephrine