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Effects of stress on parental care are sexually dimorphic in prairie voles.

  • Author(s): Bales, Karen L;
  • Kramer, Kristin M;
  • Lewis-Reese, Antoniah D;
  • Carter, C Sue
  • et al.

The effects of stress on parental care are poorly understood, especially in biparental species where males also display care. Data from previous studies in prairie voles, as well as parallels with pair-bonding behavior, suggest the hypothesis that a stressful experience might facilitate parental care in males but not in females. In the present study, male and female prairie voles were exposed to either a 3-min swim stressor or no stressor; 45 min later each animal was tested in a parental care paradigm. Following the parental care test, blood samples were collected and assayed for corticosterone (CORT). After the stressor males, but not females, showed significant changes in parental behavior including significantly more time in kyphosis (arched-back huddling), and a tendency to spend more time licking and grooming pups. In males, CORT levels measured following the parental care test were inversely related to licking and grooming but positively correlated with retrievals. These findings support earlier studies suggesting that the neuroendocrine substrates of parental behavior, as well as the effects of stressors, are sexually dimorphic in this species.

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