The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Hypoactivation of CRF receptors, predominantly type 2, in the medial-posterior BNST is vital for adequate maternal behavior in lactating rats.

PMID 25031406


Maternal behavior ensures the proper development of the offspring. In lactating mammals, maternal behavior is impaired by stress, the physiological consequence of central corticotropin-releasing factor receptor (CRF-R) activation. However, which CRF-R subtype in which specific brain area(s) mediates this effect is unknown. Here we confirmed that an intracerebroventricularly injected nonselective CRF-R antagonist enhances, whereas an agonist impairs, maternal care. The agonist also prolonged the stress-induced decrease in nursing, reduced maternal aggression and increased anxiety-related behavior. Focusing on the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), CRF-R1 and CRF-R2 mRNA expression did not differ in virgin versus lactating rats. However, CRF-R2 mRNA was more abundant in the posterior than in the medial BNST. Pharmacological manipulations within the medial-posterior BNST showed that both CRF-R1 and CRF-R2 agonists reduced arched back nursing (ABN) rapidly and after a delay, respectively. After stress, both antagonists prevented the stress-induced decrease in nursing, with the CRF-R2 antagonist actually increasing ABN. During the maternal defense test, maternal aggression was abolished by the CRF-R2, but not the CRF-R1, agonist. Anxiety-related behavior was increased by the CRF-R1 agonist and reduced by both antagonists. Both antagonists were also effective in virgin females but not in males, revealing a sexual dimorphism in the regulation of anxiety within the medial-posterior BNST. In conclusion, the detrimental effects of increased CRF-R activation on maternal behavior are mediated via CRF-R2 and, to a lesser extent, via CRF-R1 in the medial-posterior BNST in lactating rats. Moreover, both CRF-R1 and CRF-R2 regulate anxiety in females independently of their reproductive status.