Postpartum Anxiety & Maternal Behavior

A primary focus of research in the Lonstein lab is to understand the neurobiology of parental behaviors in mammals. Non-parturient females of most species do not readily show nurturant responses to infants, but a dramatic change in maternal responding occurs after females are pregnant and their infants are born.

We are interested in understanding the neurobiology underlying this peripartum change in maternal state, particularly the trade-off between maternal care and emotional reactivity in postpartum laboratory rats. Many female rodents show reduced fear and anxiety after giving birth to offspring, which is important for the mother's ability to display maternal care towards the novel and potentially anxiety-provoking pups. We are currently studying how the mother's bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) and its downstream projections regulate the tradeoff between mothering and anxiety, and how tactile inputs from pups impinge upon this neural system to influence BST neurochemistry and mother's behavior.

Our research involves studying this question at many levels of analysis. These include detailed examination of maternal and anxiety-related behaviors, neuroanatomical tracing, measuring the expression of neurotransmitter receptors and proteins using autoradiography and Western blotting, and determining levels of neurotransmitter content and release using microdialysis and HPLC.

Adequate and appropriate maternal responding is critical for the normal development, if not survival, of offspring. Our work on understanding the maternal brain, therefore, has clear implications for non-human development as well as for the welfare of human mothers and their infants.