Maternal neglect with reduced depressive-like behavior and blunted c-fos activation in Brattleboro mothers, the role of central vasopressin

Horm Behav. 2012 Sep;62(4):539-51. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.09.003. Epub 2012 Sep 21.


Early mother-infant relationships exert important long-term effects in offspring and are disturbed by factors such as postpartum depression. We aimed to clarify if lack of vasopressin influences maternal behavior paralleled by the development of a depressive-like phenotype. We compared vasopressin-deficient Brattleboro mothers with heterozygous and homozygous normal ones. The following parameters were measured: maternal behavior (undisturbed and separation-induced); anxiety by the elevated plus maze; sucrose and saccharin preference and forced swim behavior. Underlying brain areas were examined by c-fos immunocytochemistry among rest and after swim-stress. In another group of rats, vasopressin 2 receptor agonist was used peripherally to exclude secondary changes due to diabetes insipidus. Results showed that vasopressin-deficient rats spend less time licking-grooming their pups through a centrally driven mechanism. There was no difference between genotypes during the pup retrieval test. Vasopressin-deficient mothers tended to explore more the open arms of the plus maze, showed more preference for sucrose and saccharin and struggled more in the forced swim test, suggesting that they act as less depressive. Under basal conditions, vasopressin-deficient mothers had more c-fos expression in the medial preoptic area, shell of nucleus accumbens, paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and amygdala, but not in other structures. In these areas the swim-stress-induced activation was smaller. In conclusion, vasopressin-deficiency resulted in maternal neglect due to a central effect and was protective against depressive-like behavior probably as a consequence of reduced activation of some stress-related brain structures. The conflicting behavioral data underscores the need for more sex specific studies.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology
  • Maze Learning
  • Models, Biological
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Brattleboro* / metabolism
  • Rats, Brattleboro* / physiology
  • Rats, Transgenic
  • Swimming / physiology
  • Vasopressins / genetics
  • Vasopressins / metabolism
  • Vasopressins / physiology*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos
  • Vasopressins