Research highlight

Neuroscience: How mice are hardwired for parenting


April 12, 2018

The preoptic area of the hypothalamus in mice serves as an integration hub for a large amount of information that underlies parenting behaviour, reports a paper published this week in Nature. Specifically, the authors find that galanin-expressing neurons in the preoptic area coordinate motor, motivational, hormonal and social aspects of parenting.

Parenting is essential for the survival and wellbeing of mammalian offspring, but how distinct components of this behaviour are orchestrated at the brain-circuit level remains poorly understood.

Catherine Dulac and colleagues hypothesize that the function of galanin-expressing neurons in the preoptic area (MPOAGAL) requires integration of external signals such as pup- and other environmental stimuli with internal hormonal and metabolic information, as well as the ability to orchestrate motor, motivational, hormonal and social components of parenting.

The authors used viral neuronal tracing and found that MPOAGAL neurons receive direct inputs from more than 20 areas in non-parenting male and female mice. They then examined MPOAGAL activation during parenting according to the mouse’s sex and reproductive state, and found that individual pools of MPOAGAL are assigned to specific characteristic aspects of parenting. This functional organization recalls that of the control of motor sequences by pools of spinal cord neurons, and provides a new model for how discrete elements of a social behaviour are generated at the circuit level.

doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0027-0

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