The findings… suggest the single gene could be responsible for motivating mothers to protect, feed and raise their young, the scientists said.
Previous studies have found that a brain region called the medial preoptic area controls aggression, sexual receptivity and maternal care in mice. In the new study, scientists artificially lowered the levels of the chemical in the medial preoptic area of female mice, to examine how they functioned without it.
They found that the mice spent less time caring for their pups but that their levels of aggression remained unchanged. Dr Ana Ribiero, who led the study, said: “The main finding of this paper is manipulation of a specific gene in a specific group of neurons (nerve cells) can drastically alter the expression of a complete, biologically crucial behaviour.” The effects were “remarkably specific” to maternal care because even related behaviours, such as aggression, remained unchanged, she added.