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Long-term alterations in neural and endocrine processes induced by motherhood in mammals.

ABSTRACT

This article is part of a Special Issue "Parental Care". The reproductive experience of pregnancy, lactation and motherhood can significantly remodel the female's biological state, affecting endocrine, neuroendocrine, neural, and immunological processes. The brain, pituitary gland, liver, thymus, and mammary tissue are among the structures that are modified by reproductive experience. The present review that focuses on rodent research, but also includes pertinent studies in sheep and other species, identifies specific changes in these processes brought about by the biological states of pregnancy, parturition, and lactation and how the components of reproductive experience contribute to the remodeling of the maternal brain and organ systems. Findings indicate that prior parity alters key circulating hormone levels and neural receptor gene expression. Moreover, reproductive experience results in modifications in neural processes and glial support. The possible role of pregnancy-induced neurogenesis is considered in the context of neuroplasticity and behavior, and the effects of reproductive experience on maternal memory, i.e. the retention of maternal behavior, together with anxiety and learning are presented. Together, these sets of findings support the concept that the neural and biological state of the adult female is significantly and dramatically altered on a long-term basis by the experiences of parity and motherhood. Remodeling of the maternal brain and other biological systems is posited to help facilitate adaptations to environmental/ecological challenges as the female raises young and ages.