Fatherhood reduces the survival of adult-generated cells and affects various types of behavior in the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster )



Motherhood has profound effects on physiology, neuronal plasticity, and behavior. We conducted a series of experiments to test the hypothesis that fatherhood, similarly to motherhood, affects brain plasticity (such as cell proliferation and survival) and various behaviors in the highly social prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster). In Experiment 1, adult males were housed with their same-sex cage mate (control), single-housed (isolation), or housed with a receptive female to mate and produce offspring (father) for 6 weeks. Fatherhood significantly reduced cell survival (assessed by bromodeoxyuridine labeling), but not cell proliferation (assessed by Ki67-labeling), in the amygdala, dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, and ventromedial hypothalamus, suggesting that fatherhood affects brain plasticity. In Experiment 2, neither acute (20 min) nor chronic (20 min daily for 10 consecutive days) pup exposure altered cell proliferation or survival in the brain, but chronic pup exposure increased circulating corticosterone levels. These data suggest that reduced cell survival in the brain of prairie vole fathers was unlikely to be due to the level of pup exposure and display of paternal behavior, and may not be mediated by circulating corticosterone. The effects of fatherhood on various behaviors (including anxiety-like, depression-like, and social behaviors) were examined in Experiment 3. The data indicated that fatherhood increased anxiety- and depression-like behaviors as well as altered aggression and social recognition memory in male prairie voles. These results warrant further investigation of a possible link between brain plasticity and behavioral changes observed due to fatherhood.