Lever pressing for pups: evidence for hormonal influence upon maternal behavior of mice

Horm Behav. 1985 Dec;19(4):454-68. doi: 10.1016/0018-506x(85)90041-8.


Five experiments were performed to determine the extent to which hormones influence maternal behavior of the female mouse. The number of pup-reinforced lever presses served as the measure of maternal behavior. In Experiment 1 it was found that postpartum mice performed significantly more pup-reinforced lever presses than intact or ovariectomized virgins. The second experiment showed that the augmentation of responding was unique to the postpartum period since responding was not facilitated during the last three days of pregnancy. Experiment 3 established that the postpartum augmentation of responding was mediated by the termination of pregnancy and not by parturition per se. It also was observed that the earlier during gestation pregnancy was terminated the greater the decline in response rate. Experiment 4 proved that ovarian secretions play a critical role in the pregnancy-terminated facilitation of pup-reinforced lever pressing. The final experiment demonstrated that the termination-of-pregnancy effect on responding in all likelihood is mediated by the synergistic actions of estrogen stimulation and progesterone withdrawal. The results show that the maternal behavior of the mouse, like that of the rat, is responsive to hormonal stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology*
  • Lactation
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Mice
  • Ovariectomy
  • Pregnancy
  • Progesterone / physiology


  • Estrogens
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Progesterone