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Keywords:

  • circadian;
  • clock genes;
  • lactation;
  • neuroendocrine;
  • oxytocin

Abstract

Nursing in the rabbit is a circadian event during which mother and pups interact for a period of < 5 min every day. Here we explored behavioral and neuronal changes in the mother by analyzing the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), and oxytocinergic (OT) neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and the supraoptic nucleus (SON). We maintained lactating does in a light–dark cycle (lights on at 07 : 00 hours; ZT0); they were scheduled to nurse during either the day (ZT03) or the night (ZT19). Groups of intact and nursing females was perfused, one at each 4-h point through a 24-h cycle. We explored, by immunohistochemistry, the PER1 expression and double-labeling, with OT antibody, of neurons in the PVN and SON at lactation on day 7. In the SCN, intact and lactating groups had peak PER1 expression at ZT11; however, there was a reduction in PER1 at peak time in the nursing groups. There was a locomotor activity rhythm with increased activity around the time of lights-on in intact subjects and around the time of suckling in lactating does. There was an induction of PER1 in OT cells in the PVN and SON that shifted in phase with timing of nursing. We further explored the maintenance of the PER1 expression in OT cells in nursing-deprived does and found a significant decrease at 24 and 48 h after the last nursing. We conclude that suckling induced PER1 in the PVN and SON, but not in the SCN, in nursing does, and also shifted their locomotor behavior.