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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fathering in rodents: Neurobiological substrates and consequences for offspring

  • Author(s): Bales, KL
  • Saltzman, W
  • et al.

© 2015 Elsevier Inc. This article is part of a Special Issue "Parental Care". Paternal care, though rare among mammals, is routinely displayed by several species of rodents. Here we review the neuroanatomical and hormonal bases of paternal behavior, as well as the behavioral and neuroendocrine consequences of paternal behavior for offspring. Fathering behavior is subserved by many of the same neural substrates which are also involved in maternal behavior (for example, the medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus). While gonadal hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, as well as hypothalamic neuropeptides such as oxytocin and vasopressin, and the pituitary hormone prolactin, are implicated in the activation of paternal behavior, there are significant gaps in our knowledge of their actions, as well as pronounced differences between species. Removal of the father in biparental species has long-lasting effects on behavior, as well as on these same neuroendocrine systems, in offspring. Finally, individual differences in paternal behavior can have similarly long-lasting, if more subtle, effects on offspring behavior. Future studies should examine similar outcome measures in multiple species, including both biparental species and closely related uniparental species. Careful phylogenetic analyses of the neuroendocrine systems presumably important to male parenting, as well as their patterns of gene expression, will also be important in establishing the next generation of hypotheses regarding the regulation of male parenting behavior.

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