Consistent, individual differences in the expression of maternal behaviour have been described in several species including the sheep. The neuroendocrine mechanisms underlying the onset of maternal behaviour in the sheep have been described, although the relationship between hormonal events and individual differences in behaviour has yet to be determined. In this study, we examined whether the individual differences in plasma estradiol, progesterone, oxytocin and cortisol concentrations were related to observed individual and breed differences in maternal behaviours in two breeds of sheep (Scottish Blackface and Suffolk) known to differ in maternal behavioural expression. Maternal estradiol concentration increased rapidly before parturition and was higher in Blackface ewes than Suffolk ewes. Plasma progesterone declined before parturition and was higher in Suffolk than Blackface ewes. Prepartum estradiol, but not progesterone, was related to individual differences in maternal grooming of the lamb. Plasma oxytocin did not differ between breeds in late gestation. There was a tendency for oxytocin to be higher in Blackface than Suffolk ewes immediately after birth. However, there were no significant relationships between prepartum or postpartum oxytocin and any maternal behaviours. Plasma cortisol was higher in Blackface than Suffolk ewes in the last days of pregnancy but rose in both breeds over the last 24 h before parturition and did not differ at delivery. Cortisol peripartum was negatively related to individual differences in maternal affiliative behaviours. These data suggest that estradiol, and potentially cortisol, may mediate individual differences in maternal behaviour in sheep. (C) 2004 Elsevier Inc. All. rights reserved.
- oxytocin-1 maternal behaviour
- MESSENGER-RNA EXPRESSION
- VAGINOCERVICAL STIMULATION
- SEX STEROIDS