Background: Mammalian sires participate in infant care. We previously demonstrated that sires of a strain of nonmonogamous laboratory mice initiate parental retrieval behavior in response to olfactory and auditory signals from the dam during isolation in a new environment. This behavior is rapidly lost in the absence of such signals when the sires are caged alone. The neural circuitry and hormones that control paternal behavior are not well-understood. CD38, a membrane glycoprotein, catalyzes synthesis of cyclic ADP-ribose and facilitates oxytocin (OT) secretion due to cyclic ADP-ribose-dependent increases in cytosolic free calcium concentrations in oxytocinergic neurons in the hypothalamus. In this paper, we studied CD38 in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and the role of OT on paternal pup retrieval behavior using CD38 knockout (CD38-/-) mice of the ICR strain.
Results: CD38-/- sires failed to retrieve when they were reunited with their pups after isolation together with the mate dams, but not with pup, in a novel cage for 10 min. CD38-/- sires treated with a single subcutaneous injection of OT exhibited recovery in the retrieval events when caged with CD38-/- dams treated with OT. We introduced human CD38 in the NAcc of CD38-/- sires using a lentiviral infection technique and examined the effects of local expression of CD38. Pairs of knockout dams treated with OT and sires expressing CD38 in the NAcc showed more retrieval (83% of wild-type sire levels). Complete recovery of retrieval was obtained in sires with the expression of CD38 in the NAcc in combination with OT administration. Other paternal behaviors, including pup grooming, crouching and huddling, were also more common in CD38-/- sires with CD38 expression in the NAcc compared with those in CD38-/- sires without CD38 expression in the NAcc.
Conclusions: CD38 in the NAcc and OT are critical in paternal behavior.