Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor in the Nucleus Accumbens Mediates Individual Differences in Behavioral Responses to a Natural, Social Reward

Mol Neurobiol. 2020 Jan;57(1):290-301. doi: 10.1007/s12035-019-01699-2. Epub 2019 Jul 20.


BDNF-oxytocin interactions in the brain are implicated in mammalian maternal behavior. We found that BDNF gene expression is increased in the hippocampus of rat mothers that show increased pup licking/grooming (high LG mothers) compared to low LG mothers. High LG mothers also showed increased BDNF protein levels in the nucleus accumbens (nAcc). Immunoneutralization of BDNF in the nAcc eliminated the differences in pup LG between high and low LG mothers. Oxytocin antagonist in the ventral hippocampus significantly decreased the frequency of maternal LG behavior. Oxytocin antagonist significantly prevented the oxytocin-induced BDNF gene expression in primary hippocampal cell cultures. We suggest that oxytocin-induced regulation of BDNF in the nAcc provides a neuroendocrine basis for both individual differences in maternal behavior and resilience to the stress of reproduction in female mammals.

Keywords: BDNF; Maternal behavior; Nucleus accumbens; Oxytocin; Ventral hippocampus.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Oxytocin / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Oxytocin