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A neural circuit required for maternal adaptation to pregnancy

48 months
Approved budget:
Professor David Grattan
Dr Rosemary Brown
Health issue:
Reproduction/fertility/sexual health
Proposal type:
Lay summary
Maternal care is critical to the survival of dependent offspring. We have recently described a prolactin-sensitive neural circuit centred in the medial preoptic area (MPOA) of the hypothalamus that is essential for a mother to look after her offspring. Neurons within the MPOA project to a number of different brain regions. Here, we propose a combination of state-of-the-art optogenetic and viral tracing methods to functionally and anatomically map the different projections of neurons within this circuit and determine whether different projections are involved in different aspects of maternal care. There is increasing recognition that pregnancy hormones such as prolactin exert significant influence on the maternal brain, and that abnormalities in adaptive responses to these hormones may be associated with perinatal mental illness. This research will provide new insights into the hormonal regulation of maternal behaviour, and how hormones facilitate the development of maternal-infant bonds.