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Maternal stress and the MPOA: Activation of CRF receptor 1 impairs maternal behavior and triggers local oxytocin release in lactating rats

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Stefanie Klampfl
  • Milena Schramm
  • Barbara Gaßner
  • Katharina Hübner
  • Audrey Seasholtz
  • Paula Brunton
  • Doris Bayerl
  • Oliver J Bosch

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)440-450
Issue number1
Early online date2 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


Maternal behavior and anxiety are potently modulated by the brain corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) system postpartum. Downregulation of CRF in limbic brain regions is essential for appropriate maternal behavior and an adaptive anxiety response. Here, we focus our attention on arguably the most important brain region for maternal behavior, the hypothalamic medial preoptic area (MPOA). Within the MPOA, mRNA for CRF receptor subtype 1 (protein: CRFR1, gene: Crhr1) was more abundantly expressed than for subtype 2 (protein: CRFR2, gene: Crhr2), however expression of Crhr1, Crhr2 and CRF binding-protein (protein: CRFBP, gene: Crhbp) mRNA was similar between virgin and lactating rats. Subtype-specific activation of CRFR, predominantly CRFR1, in the MPOA decreased arched back nursing and total nursing under non-stress conditions. Following acute stressor exposure, only CRFR1 inhibition rescued the stress-induced reduction in arched back nursing while CRFR1 activation prolonged the decline in nursing. Furthermore, inhibition of CRFR1 strongly increased maternal aggression in the maternal defense test. CRFR1 activation had anxiogenic actions and reduced locomotion on the elevated plus-maze, however neither CRFR1 nor R2 manipulation affected maternal motivation. In addition, activation of CRFR1, either centrally or locally in the MPOA, increased local oxytocin release. Finally, inhibition of CRFBP (a potent regulator of CRFR activity) in the MPOA did not affect any of the maternal parameters investigated. In conclusion, activity of CRFR in the MPOA, particularly of subtype 1, needs to be dampened during lactation to ensure appropriate maternal behavior. Furthermore, oxytocin release in the MPOA may provide a regulatory mechanism to counteract the negative impact of CRFR activation on maternal behavior.

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