c-Fos expression in the paternal mouse brain induced by communicative interaction with maternal mates

Mol Brain. 2014 Sep 11;7:66. doi: 10.1186/s13041-014-0066-x.


Background: Appropriate parental care by fathers greatly facilitates health in human family life. Much less is known from animal studies regarding the factors and neural circuitry that affect paternal behavior compared with those affecting maternal behavior. We recently reported that ICR mouse sires displayed maternal-like retrieval behavior when they were separated from pups and caged with their mates (co-housing) because the sires receive communicative interactions via ultrasonic and pheromone signals from the dams. We investigated the brain structures involved in regulating this activity by quantifying c-Fos-immunoreactive cells as neuronal activation markers in the neural pathway of male parental behavior.

Results: c-Fos expression in the medial preoptic area (mPOA) was significantly higher in sires that exhibited retrieval behavior (retrievers) than those with no such behavior (non-retrievers). Identical increased expression was found in the mPOA region in the retrievers stimulated by ultrasonic vocalizations or pheromones from their mates. Such increases in expression were not observed in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), nucleus accumbens (NAcc) or ventral palladium (VP). On the following day that we identified the families of the retrievers or non-retrievers, c-Fos expression in neuronal subsets in the mPOA, VTA, NAcc and VP was much higher in the retriever sires when they isolated together with their mates in new cages. This difference was not observed in the singly isolated retriever sires in new cages. The non-retriever sires did not display expression changes in the four brain regions that were assessed.

Conclusion: The mPOA neurons appeared to be activated by direct communicative interactions with mate dams, including ultrasonic vocalizations and pheromones. The mPOA-VTA-NAcc-VP neural circuit appears to be involved in paternal retrieval behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred ICR
  • Pheromones / pharmacology
  • Preoptic Area / drug effects
  • Preoptic Area / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Time Factors
  • Ultrasonics


  • Pheromones
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos