Adaptations in Reward-Related Behaviors and Mesolimbic Dopamine Function During Motherhood and the Postpartum Period

Front Neuroendocrinol. 2020 Apr;57:100839. doi: 10.1016/j.yfrne.2020.100839. Epub 2020 Apr 16.


Initiation and maintenance of maternal behavior is driven by a complex interaction between the physiology of parturition and offspring stimulation, causing functional changes in maternal brain and behavior. Maternal behaviors are among the most robust and rewarding motivated behaviors. Mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system alterations during pregnancy and the postpartum enable enhanced reward-related responses to offspring stimuli. Here, we review behavioral evidence demonstrating postpartum rodents exhibit a bias towards pups and pup-related stimuli in reward-related tasks. Next, we provide an overview of normative adaptations in the mesolimbic DA system induced by parturition and the postpartum, which likely mediate shifts in offspring valence. We also discuss a causal link between dopaminergic dysfunction and disrupted maternal behaviors, which are recapitulated in postpartum depression (PPD) and relevant rodent models. In sum, mesolimbic DA system activation drives infant-seeking behavior and strengthens the mother-infant bond, potentially representing a therapeutic target for reward-related deficits in PPD.

Keywords: Dopamine; Humans; Maternal; Motivation; Postpartum; Postpartum depression; Reward; Rodents; VTA.

Publication types

  • Review