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Effects of transections to the vomeronasal nerves or to the main olfactory bulbs on the initiation and long-term retention of maternal behavior in primiparous rats

Behavioral and Neural Biology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0163-1047(92)90122-k


While the onset of maternal behavior at parturition is mediated by hormones, the maintenance of maternal behavior during the first few postpartum weeks depends on experiences acquired while the dam interacts with pups ( Rosenblatt, 1990). In fact, if female rats are permitted as little as 2 h or maternal experience within 36 h after Cesarean delivery, they exhibit heightened maternal behavior during maternal induction tests 10 days later; in contrast, dams separated from young at the time of Cesarean delivery and not permitted a maternal experience fail to respond maternally in tests 10 days later ( Orpen & Fleming, 1987). In this study we investigated the role of chemosensory input through the vomeronasal and main olfactory systems in this maternal experience effect. Six groups of primiparous females were tested for maternal behavior to foster pups presented 9–10 days after Cesarean delivery: three groups were permitted to interact with pups for a 2-h period 36 h after Cesarean delivery; and three groups were separated from pups until testing and were given no maternal experience. Within each experience condition, one group sustained bilateral section of the vomeronasal nerves, one sustained bilateral coronal cuts through the midsection of the main olfactory bulbs, and one group sustained small medial olfactory bulb cuts. The results showed that animals sustaining vomeronasal or olfactory transections, regardless of experience condition, exhibited significantly reduced latencies to maternal behavior in maternal induction tests. However, these chemosensory disruptions did not prevent an additional facilitation of maternal behavior produced by a prior maternal experience.

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