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Effects of Reproductive Experience on Central Expression of Progesterone, Oestrogen α, Oxytocin and Vasopressin Receptor mRNA in Male California Mice (Peromyscus californicus)

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Fatherhood in biparental mammals is accompanied by distinct neuroendocrine changes in males, involving some of the same hormones involved in maternal care. In the monogamous, biparental California mouse (Peromyscus californicus), paternal care has been linked to changes in the central and/or peripheral availability of oestrogen, progesterone, vasopressin and oxytocin, although it is not known whether these endocrine fluctuations are associated with changes in receptor availability in the brain. Thus, we compared mRNA expression of oestrogen receptor (ER)α, progesterone receptor (PR), vasopressin receptor (V1a) and oxytocin receptor (OTR) in brain regions implicated in paternal care [i.e. medial preoptic area (MPOA)], fear [i.e. medial amygdala (MeA)] and anxiety [i.e. bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST)] between first-time fathers (n = 8) and age-matched virgin males (n = 7). Males from both reproductive conditions behaved paternally towards unrelated pups, whereas fathers showed significantly shorter latencies to behave paternally and less time investigating pups. Furthermore, fathers showed significantly lower PR, OTR and V1a receptor mRNA expression in the BNST compared to virgins. Fathers also showed a marginally significant (P = 0.07) reduction in progesterone receptor mRNA expression in the MPOA, although fatherhood was not associated with any other changes in receptor mRNA in the MPOA or MeA. The results of the present study indicate that behavioural and endocrine changes associated with the onset of fatherhood, and/or with cohabitation with a (breeding) female, are accompanied by changes in mRNA expression of hormone and neuropeptide receptors in the brain.

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