Experience of Adversity during a First Lactation Modifies Prefrontal Cortex Morphology in Primiparous Female Rats: Lack of Long Term Effects on a Subsequent Lactation

Neuroscience. 2019 Oct 1;417:95-106. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2019.08.022. Epub 2019 Aug 19.


Reproductive experience is associated with morphological and functional plasticity in brain areas important for cognitive and emotional responses, including the infralimbic (IL) medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Here we examined whether suboptimal conditions during a first lactation could modify lactation-induced morphological IL mPFC changes, leading to alterations in stress responses and attention and whether any observed effects would persist into a second lactation. Reduced availability of bedding and nesting material (LB) was used to induce unfavorable conditions in primiparous (P) mothers. In normal bedding (NB) conditions, P mothers exhibited high spine number and density on postpartum day (PPD)10, which greatly decreased 2 weeks after weaning of their pups. In contrast, P-LB mothers had a lower spine number and density on PPD10, which markedly increased after weaning. LB exposure did not modify stress responsiveness to a ferret odor on PPD5 in primiparous or in multiparous (M) females. Number of errors and trials to criterion in the attention set shifting task were not modified by a history of adversity in multiparous females, although this group tended to exhibit higher attentional abilities than M-NB females. These results suggest that adversity acutely reduces morphological plasticity in the maternal mPFC during lactation, an effect that is not associated with significant changes in stress responses and/or glucocorticoid production. Medial PFC morphological changes induced by LB subside during a subsequent lactation as does the effect of maternity itself.

Keywords: attention set shifting; lactation; medial prefrontal cortex; morphology; multiparity; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Animals
  • Attention*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Female
  • Lactation / psychology*
  • Male
  • Postpartum Period
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reproduction
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Weaning


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticosterone