Paternal care in rodents: weakening support for hormonal regulation of the transition to behavioral fatherhood in rodent animal models of biparental care.

Research paper by Katherine E KE Wynne-Edwards, Mary E ME Timonin

Indexed on: 08 May '07Published on: 08 May '07Published in: Hormones and Behavior


Male rodents that are naturally paternal, like all females, must inhibit infanticide and activate direct parental behavior as they become parents. Males, however, alter their behavior in the absence of parturition, postpartum ovulation and lactation, and therefore do not experience the hormone dynamics associated with such conditions. Paternal males might nevertheless use the same hormones to activate pre-existing maternal behavior pathways in the brain. Positive and inverse associations between prolactin, sex steroids (estradiol, testosterone, progesterone), glucocorticoids, oxytocin and vasopressin and paternal behavior are reviewed. Across biparental rodents (Phodopus campbelli, Peromyscus californicus, Microtus ochrogaster, and Meriones unguiculatus), as well as non-human primates and men, hormone-behavior associations are broadly supported. However, experimental manipulations (largely restricted to P. campbelli) suggest that the co-variation of hormones and paternal behavior is not causal in paternal behavior. Perhaps the hormone-behavior associations shared by P. campbelli and other paternal males are important for other challenges at the same time as fatherhood (e.g., mating during the postpartum estrus). On the other hand, each paternal species might, instead, have unique neuroendocrine pathways to parental behavior. In the latter case, future comparisons might reveal extraordinary plasticity in how the brain forms social bonds and alters behavior in family groups.