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Dorsal raphe serotonin neurotransmission is required for the expression of nursing behavior and for pup survival

  • Muzerelle, Aude1
  • Soiza-Reilly, Mariano1, 2
  • Hainer, Cornelia3
  • Ruet, Pierre-Louis1
  • Lesch, Klaus-Peter4, 5, 6
  • Bader, Michael3, 7, 8, 9
  • Alenina, Natalia3, 7, 10, 11
  • Scotto-Lomassese, Sophie1
  • Gaspar, Patricia1, 12
  • 1 Sorbonne Université UMR-S 1270, Paris, France , Paris (France)
  • 2 Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina , Buenos Aires (Argentina)
  • 3 Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medecine (MDC), Berlin-Buch, Germany , Berlin-Buch (Germany)
  • 4 University of Würzburg, Würzburg, Germany , Würzburg (Germany)
  • 5 I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Moscow, Russia , Moscow (Russia)
  • 6 Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands , Maastricht (Netherlands)
  • 7 German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), Partner Site, Berlin, Germany , Berlin (Germany)
  • 8 Charite-University Medicine, Berlin, Germany , Berlin (Germany)
  • 9 University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany , Lübeck (Germany)
  • 10 St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia , St. Petersburg (Russia)
  • 11 Russian Academy of Science, St. Petersburg, Russia , St. Petersburg (Russia)
  • 12 Paris Brain Institute, Paris, 75013, France , Paris (France)
Published Article
Scientific Reports
Springer Nature
Publication Date
Mar 16, 2021
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-84368-6
Springer Nature


Proper maternal care is an essential factor of reproductive success in mammals, involving a repertoire of behaviors oriented toward the feeding and care of the offspring. Among the neurotransmitters involved in the initiation of these behaviors, serotonin (5-HT) seems to play an important role. Here we compared pup-oriented maternal behaviors in mice with constitutive 5-HT depletion, the tryptophan hydroxylase 2-knock-out (Tph2-KO) and the Pet1-KO mice. We report that the only common pup-oriented defect in these 2 hyposerotoninergic models is a defective nursing in parturient mice and altered nursing-like (crouching) behavior in virgin mice, while pup retrieval defects are only present in Tph2-KO. Despite a normal mammary gland development and milk production, the defect in appropriate nursing is responsible for severe growth retardation and early lethality of pups born to hyposerotonergic dams. This nursing defect is due to acute rather constitutive 5-HT depletion, as it is reproduced by adult knockdown of Tph2 in the dorsal raphe nucleus in mothers with a prior normal maternal experience. We conclude that 5-HT innervation from the dorsal raphe is required for both the initiation and maintenance of a normal nursing behavior. Our findings may be related to observations of reduced maternal/infant interactions in human depression.

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