Maternal behavior deficits in nulliparous oxytocin knockout mice


Cort A. Pedersen, Department of Psychiatry, CB 7160, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7160, USA. E-mail:


The first observations of postpartum oxytocin knockout (OTKO) mice found no maternal behavior deficits. However, it is unclear how detailed those observations were. In this study, we compared maternal behavior exhibited by OTKO and wild-type (WT) nullipara toward six 2–4-day-old foster pups during test sessions conducted on 3 successive days. Each day, subjects were placed in a clean cage 30 min prior to introduction of pups which were deposited in a clump adjacent to the middle of a long wall of each test cage. Behavior was measured for 3.5 h after which pups and test subjects were returned to their home cages. On test days 1 and 3, a significantly smaller proportion of OTKO females retrieved pups to a corner of their cage. Also, significantly fewer pups were retrieved to corners by OTKO females. In contrast to most WTs, most OTKO females mothered pups in the center of the cage where they were initially deposited. Pup-licking frequencies were significantly lower in OTKO females. Their self-grooming frequencies also trended toward being lower. Latencies to retrieve and lick pups, latencies to and frequencies of still crouching over pups and proportion of time in nest did not differ between groups. Our findings suggest that OT stimulates a significant proportion of pup-licking in nulliparous mice, a situation similar to lactating rat mothers. Our results also indicate that OT may play a role in the motivation to retrieve pups to a more secure location.