• AKR;
  • C3H;
  • C57BL/6;
  • cross-fostering;
  • DBA/2;
  • inbred strain;
  • licking;
  • maternal behavior;
  • mouse;
  • nursing

The importance of maternal care in shaping an individual’s phenotype in health and disease is becoming more and more apparent in both human and animal studies. However, in mouse studies using inbred strains or knockout mice to analyze the genetic influences on the development of normal and aberrant behavioral phenotypes, maternal behavior is very poorly characterized and often ignored. This study provides an extensive analysis of spontaneous maternal behavior of inbred mice in three conditions: (1) comparing two commonly used strains, (2) analyzing the impact of adopting pups from the same strain (intrastrain cross-fostering) and (3) analyzing the impact of adopting pups from a different strain (interstrain cross-fostering). For each condition, maternal behavior was analyzed continuously over 23-h periods on postnatal days 2, 4, 6 and 9. We report that (1) the maternal behavior of C57BL/6J and DBA/2J dams toward their biological offspring is highly similar, (2) intrastrain cross-fostering has minimal impact on maternal behavior of C57BL/6J and DBA/2J dams, (3) interstrain cross-fostering does not modify the strain differences in maternal care observed between AKR and C3H/He mothers and (4) the pup strain does influence the amount of maternal behavior shown by both mothers in interstrain cross-fostering. These latter findings demonstrate that both mother strain and pup strain are key determinants of maternal behavior.