Optimizing reproductive fitness in mammalians requires behavioral adaptations during pregnancy. Maternal preparatory nesting is an essential behavior for the survival of the upcoming litter. Brain-wide immediate early gene mapping in mice evoked by nesting sequences revealed that phases of nest construction strongly activate peptidergic neurons of the Edinger-Westphal nucleus in pregnant mice. Genetic ablation, bidirectional neuromodulation, and in vitro and in vivo activity recordings demonstrated that these neurons are essential to modulate arousal before sleep to promote nesting specifically. We show that these neurons enable the behavioral effects of progesterone on preparatory nesting by modulating a broad network of downstream targets. Our study deciphers the role of midbrain CART+ neurons in behavioral adaptations during pregnancy vital for reproductive fitness.
Keywords: CART; CCK; Edinger-Westphal; light sheet microscopy; nesting; neuromodulation; parental behaviors; pregnancy; progesterone; tissue clearing.
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