Variations in Maternal Behaviour are Associated with Differences in Oxytocin Receptor Levels in the Rat


Michael J. Meaney, Developmental Neuroendocrinology Laboratory, Douglas Hospital Research Center, 6875 LaSalle Boulevard, Montréal, Québec, H4H 1R3, Canada (e-mail:


Female Long-Evans rats exhibit stable individual differences in maternal behaviours such as pup licking/grooming and arched-back nursing posture (LG-ABN). These variations in maternal behaviour are accompanied by differences in lactation-induced increases in oxytocin receptor levels in brain regions known to mediate the expression of maternal care in this species (i.e. the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, the medial preoptic area and the lateral septum). Oxytocin receptor levels in the central nucleus of the amygdala were significantly higher in high compared to low LG-ABN females regardless of reproductive status. These findings suggest that individual differences in maternal behaviour may be directly related to variations in oxytocin receptor expression.