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Keywords:

  • oxytocin receptor antagonist;
  • parturition;
  • lactation

Abstract

There is evidence that the central oxytocin system is activated and undergoes reorganization before parturition. The present study was designed to determine the effects of central oxytocin receptor blockade during late gestation on parturition, pup growth, and oxytocin release during suckling. Female Sprague-Dawley rats were implanted on gestation day 12–14 with Alzet® osmotic minipumps containing an oxytocin receptor antagonist (d(CH2)5, Tyr (Me)2, Orn8–vasotocin; OT-X) or artificial cerebrospinal fluid (VEH), which was infused into the third cerebral ventricle. Pumps were removed within 24 h of parturition. Daily maternal body weight and food intake were monitored during gestation and lactation. The length of gestation, duration of parturition, pup number, litter weight and interbirth interval were recorded. Subsequently, pup number and litter weights were recorded daily until lactation day 10 or 11, when maternal and pup behaviour, and plasma oxytocin concentration before and during suckling were measured. Central oxytocin blockade had no effect on the timing of parturition, maternal behaviour, litter size, still births, or litter weights at birth. However, beginning on day 3 of lactation, average weights of litters of OT-X females were significantly lower than litters of VEH-treated females. Furthermore, while basal plasma oxytocin concentrations, oxytocin increases in response to suckling and dam/pup interactions did not differ between groups, a significant delay in suckling-induced systemic oxytocin release was observed in OT-X females. Finally, OT-X dams weighed less than VEH dams during the postpartum observation period, although food intakes were similar. These data suggest that central actions of oxytocin during late gestation are necessary for the normal timing of systemic release of oxytocin during suckling, normal pup weight gain, and maintenance of maternal body weight.