We report that variations in maternal care in the rat promote hippocampal synaptogenesis and spatial learning and memory through systems known to mediate experience-dependent neural development. Thus, the offspring of mothers that show high levels of pup licking and grooming and arched-back nursing showed increased expression of NMDA receptor subunit and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) mRNA, increased cholinergic innervation of the hippocampus and enhanced spatial learning and memory. A cross-fostering study provided evidence for a direct relationship between maternal behavior and hippocampal development, although not all neonates were equally sensitive to variations in maternal care.
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The authors thank the laboratory of R. Quirion, Douglas Hospital Research Centre, for advice on the acetylcholine studies and G. Kuchel for advice on the NGF mRNA in situ protocol. This research was supported by a grant from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (to M.J.M.). D.L. holds a Graduate Fellowship, J.D. a Post-Doctoral Fellowship and M.J.M. a Senior Scientist award from the Medical Research Council of Canada.
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Liu, D., Diorio, J., Day, J. et al. Maternal care, hippocampal synaptogenesis and cognitive development in rats. Nat Neurosci 3, 799–806 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1038/77702
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