Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in final edited form as: Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 2014 February ; 117: 25–33. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2013.11.034.


© 2013 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission. PubMed Central version.


Maternal behavior in rats is a highly motivated and well-organized social behavior. Given the known roles of serotonin (5-HT) in emotion, motivation, social behavior, and major depression – and its known interaction with dopamine – it is likely that serotonin also plays a crucial role in this behavior. So far, there are surprisingly few studies focusing on 5-HT in maternal behavior, except for maternal aggression. In the present study,we examined the effects of 5-HT2C receptor agonism and 5-HT2A receptor antagonism on maternal behavior in postpartum female rats.We hypothesized that activation of 5-HT2C receptors and blockade of 5-HT2A receptors would produce a functionally equivalent disruption of maternal behavior because these two receptor subtypes often exert opposite effects on various brain functions and psychological processes relevant to rat maternal behavior. On postpartum Days 5, 7, and 9, Sprague–Dawley mother rats were given a single injection of 0.9% NaCl solution, the 5-HT2C agonist MK212 (0.5, 1.0 or 2.0 mg/kg, ip), or the 5-HT2A antagonist MDL100907 (0.05, 0.5 or 2.0 mg/kg, ip). Maternal behavior was tested 30 min before and 30 min, 120 min, 240 min after injection. Acute injection of MK212 significantly disrupted pup retrieval, pup licking, pup nursing, and nest building in a dose-dependent fashion. At the tested doses, MDL100907 had little effect on various components of rat maternal behavior. Across the 3 days of testing, no apparent sensitization or tolerance associated with repeated administration of MK212 and MDL100907 was found.We concluded that rat maternal performance is critically dependent on 5-HT2C receptors, while the role of 5-HT2A receptors is still inconclusive. Possible behavioral mechanisms of actions of 5-HT2C receptor in maternal behavior are discussed.