Plasticity of neural connections underlying oxytocin-mediated parental behaviors of male mice

Neuron. 2022 Jun 15;110(12):2009-2023.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2022.03.033. Epub 2022 Apr 19.


The adult brain can flexibly adapt behaviors to specific life-stage demands. For example, while sexually naive male mice are aggressive to the conspecific young, they start to provide caregiving to infants around the time when their own young are expected. How such behavioral plasticity is implemented at the level of neural connections remains poorly understood. Here, using viral-genetic approaches, we establish hypothalamic oxytocin neurons as the key regulators of the parental caregiving behaviors of male mice. We then use rabies-virus-mediated unbiased screening to identify excitatory neural connections originating from the lateral hypothalamus to the oxytocin neurons to be drastically strengthened when male mice become fathers. These connections are functionally relevant, as their activation suppresses pup-directed aggression in virgin males. These results demonstrate the life-stage associated, long-distance, and cell-type-specific plasticity of neural connections in the hypothalamus, the brain region that is classically assumed to be hard-wired.

Keywords: hypothalamus; neural connections; oxytocin; parental behaviors; trans-synaptic tracing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression* / physiology
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Oxytocin*
  • Parents


  • Oxytocin