Maternally separated rats show deficits in maternal care in adulthood



Although there is considerable research on the phenomenology, neuroendocrinology, neuroanatomy, and sensory control of maternal behavior, little is known about the influences of early postnatal and postweaning experiences on the development of maternal behavior. The purpose of this study was to assess how early life separation from the mother rat affects development of the offspring's juvenile and adult maternal behavior. From postnatal Days 1 to 17, 3 female rats within each litter were separated (SEP) from the mother and the rest of the litter for 5 hr daily while 3 of their sisters were not maternally separated (NSEP). On postnatal Day 21, all subjects were weaned and randomly assigned to one of three juvenile conditions. One female from both SEP and NSEP groups was either isolated (I), given a social conspecific (S), or given 1- to 4-day-old pups (P) for 5 consecutive days. Maternal behavior of SEP and NSEP animals was assessed and recorded on each of the 5 days. Once all animals reached adulthood, they were mated, gave birth, and were assessed for their maternal behavior. We found that the effects of maternal separation on juvenile maternal-like behaviors were minimal. On the other hand, maternal separation reduced adult maternal licking and crouching over pups. In addition, there was a significant interaction between postnatal and juvenile experience on maternal crouching in maternal animals. These results are discussed in terms of the variety of possible behavioral, endocrine, and neurochemical mechanisms that mediate the effects of early life experiences on adult maternal behavior. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 39: 19–33, 2001