Maternal Programming of Social Dominance via Milk Cytokines

iScience. 2020 Aug 21;23(8):101357. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101357. Epub 2020 Jul 10.


Regular physical activity improves physical and mental health. Here we found that the effect of physical activity extends to the next generation. Voluntary wheel running of dams, from postpartum day 2 to weaning, increased the social dominance and reproductive success, but not the physical/metabolic health, of their otherwise sedentary offspring. The individual's own physical activity did not improve dominance status. Maternal exercise did not disrupt maternal care or the maternal and offspring microbiota. Rather, the development of dominance behavior in the offspring of running mothers could be explained by the reduction of LIF, CXCL1, and CXCL2 cytokines in breast milk. These data reveal a cytokine-mediated lactocrine pathway that responds to the mother's postpartum physical activity and programs offspring social dominance. As dominance behaviors are highly relevant to the individual's survival and reproduction, lactocrine programming could be an evolutionary mechanism by which a mother promotes the social rank of her offspring.

Keywords: Behavioral Neuroscience; Biological Sciences; Immunology.