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Family Life on the Prairie

Frontiers in Neuroscience
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2010.00169
  • Neuroscience
  • Frontiers Commentary
  • Biology
  • Medicine


Frontiers in Neuroscience December 2010 | Volume 4 | Article 169 | 1 FRONTIERS COMMENTARY published: 08 December 2010 doi: 10.3389/fnins.2010.00169 Family life on the prairie Karen L. Bales* Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, CA, USA *Correspondence: [email protected] A commentary on The impact of early life family structure on adult social attachment, alloparen- tal behavior, and the neuropeptide sys- tems regulating affiliative behaviors in the monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) by Todd H. Ahern and Larry J. Young. (2009) Front. Behav. Neurosci. 3:17. The prairie vole has become a flagship species for the biomedical exploration of the neurobiology of social bonding (Carter et al., 1995; Young et al., 2005). It is a species native to the prairies of Midwest North America, and adults show social “ monogamy” – a suite of behaviors including the formation of an emotional pair-bond with an adult partner; shared care of offspring including male care, and in this case, care by older offspring as well; and maintenance of territories (Carter and Getz, 1993). Research on prairie voles and closely related polygynous species such as meadow and montane voles has illuminated the role of oxytocin and vasopressin as key neuropeptides regulating social behavior, and particularly their role in the formation of selective social bonds (Witt et al., 1990; Winslow et al., 1993; Insel and Hulihan, 1995; Young et al., 2005). Early experiences of various kinds (early handling, separation from the mother, early abuse, etc.) have long been studied by psy- chobiologists, most famously by Levine (Levine, 1957; Levine and Lewis, 1959) and Denenberg (Denenberg et al., 1962; Denenberg and Whimbey, 1963). It was something of a revelation when Meaney and colleagues, rather than manipulating early experience, began examining natural variation in maternal behavior of rat moth- ers, and showing long-lasting effects of th

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