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Plasticity of paternity: Effects of fatherhood on synaptic, intrinsic and morphological characteristics of neurons in the medial preoptic area of male California mice.

  • Author(s): Horrell, Nathan D;
  • Saltzman, Wendy;
  • Hickmott, Peter W
  • et al.

Parental care by fathers enhances offspring survival and development in numerous species. In the biparental California mouse, Peromyscus californicus, behavioral plasticity is seen during the transition into fatherhood: adult virgin males often exhibit aggressive or indifferent responses to pups, whereas fathers engage in extensive paternal care. In this species and other biparental mammals, the onset of paternal behavior is associated with increased neural responsiveness to pups in specific brain regions, including the medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus (MPOA), a region strongly implicated in both maternal and paternal behavior. To assess possible changes in neural circuit properties underlying this increased excitability, we evaluated synaptic, intrinsic, and morphological properties of MPOA neurons in adult male California mice that were either virgins or first-time fathers. We used standard whole-cell recordings in a novel in vitro slice preparation. Excitatory and inhibitory post-synaptic currents from MPOA neurons were recorded in response to local electrical stimulation, and input/output curves were constructed for each. Responses to trains of stimuli were also examined. We quantified intrinsic excitability by measuring voltage changes in response to square-pulse injections of both depolarizing and hyperpolarizing current. Biocytin was injected into neurons during recording, and their morphology was analyzed. Most parameters did not differ significantly between virgins and fathers. However, we document a decrease in synaptic inhibition in fathers. These findings suggest that the onset of paternal behavior in California mouse fathers may be associated with limited electrophysiological plasticity within the MPOA.

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