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Keywords:

  • alloparental behaviour;
  • oxytocin;
  • vasopressin;
  • corticotrophin-releasing hormone;
  • pair-bonding;
  • prairie voles

Paternal behaviour and pair-bond formation are defining characteristics of social monogamy. However, in comparison to pair-bonding, the endocrine factors associated with the male care of young are not well studied. In the present study, plasma concentrations of oxytocin, vasopressin and corticosterone (CORT) were measured in reproductively naïve male prairie voles as a function of exposure to an infant or control manipulations (i.e. handling or exposure to a wooden dowel). Plasma oxytocin concentrations were transiently elevated within 10 min of pup exposure. Although plasma CORT concentration typically increases after handling, after 10 min of pup exposure, the concentration of plasma CORT was not increased, suggesting an attenuation of CORT release by pup exposure. Group differences in the concentrations of plasma hormones were no longer detected at 20 or 60 min after treatment. These patterns of rapid change in the concentrations of plasma oxytocin and CORT were observed in both juvenile and adult males but not detected after control procedures. Plasma vasopressin, assessed only in adult males, did not vary as a function of pup exposure or other manipulations. In the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, pup exposure also increased activation (as assessed by the measurement of c-Fos) of neurones that stained for either oxytocin or vasopressin, whereas it decreased c-Fos expression in neurones stained for corticotrophin-releasing hormone. In addition, brief pup exposure (20 min) facilitated subsequent partner preference formation when alloparental males and pup attackers were considered as a group. In the context of other studies, these data support the hypothesis that neuroendocrine changes associated with male alloparental behaviour are related to those implicated in pair-bonding.