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1.  Impairments in the Initiation of Maternal Behavior in Oxytocin Receptor Knockout Mice 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e98839.
Oxytocin (Oxt) acting through its single receptor subtype, the Oxtr, is important for the coordination of physiology and behavior associated with parturition and maternal care. Knockout mouse models have been helpful in exploring the contributions of Oxt to maternal behavior, including total body Oxt knockout (Oxt −/−) mice, forebrain conditional Oxtr knockout (Oxtr FB/FB) mice, and total body Oxtr knockout (Oxtr −/−) mice. Since Oxtr −/− mice are unable to lactate, maternal behavior has only been examined in virgin females, or in dams within a few hours of parturition, and there have been no studies that have examined their anxiety-like and depression-like behavior following parturition. To improve our understanding of how the absence of Oxt signaling affects maternal behavior, mood and anxiety, we designed a study using Oxtr −/− mice that separated nursing behavior from other aspects of maternal care, such as licking and grooming by thelectomizing (i.e. removing the nipples) of Oxtr +/+ mice and sham-thelectomizing Oxtr −/− mice, and pairing both genotypes with a wet nurse. We then measured pup abandonment, maternal behavior, and postpartum anxiety-like and depression-like behaviors. We hypothesized that genetic disruption of the Oxtr would impact maternal care, mood and anxiety. Specifically, we predicted that Oxtr −/− dams would have impaired maternal care and increased anxiety-like and depression-like behaviors in the postpartum period. We found that Oxtr −/− dams had significantly higher levels of pup abandonment compared to controls, which is consistent with previous work in Oxtr FB/FB mice. Interestingly, Oxtr −/− dams that initiated maternal care did not differ from wildtype controls in measures of maternal behavior. We also did not find any evidence of altered anxiety-like or depressive-like behavior in the postpartum period of Oxtr −/− dams. Thus, our data suggest that Oxt lowers the threshold for the initiation of maternal behavior.
PMCID: PMC4044031  PMID: 24892749
2.  Interaction between Oxytocin Genotypes and Early Experience Predicts Quality of Mothering and Postpartum Mood 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e61443.
Individual differences in maternal behavior are affected by both early life experiences and oxytocin, but little is known about genetic variation in oxytocin genes and its effects on mothering. We examined two polymorphisms in the oxytocin peptide gene OXT (rs2740210 and rs4813627) and one polymorphism in the oxytocin receptor gene OXTR (rs237885) in 187 Caucasian mothers at six months postpartum. For OXT, both rs2740210 and rs4813627 significantly associated with maternal vocalizing to the infant. These polymorphisms also interacted with the quality of care mothers experienced in early life, to predict variation in maternal instrumental care and postpartum depression. However, postpartum depression did not mediate the gene-environment effects of the OXT SNPs on instrumental care. In contrast, the OXTR SNP rs237885 did not associate with maternal behavior, but it did associate with pre-natal (but not post-natal) depression score. The findings illustrate the importance of variation in oxytocin genes, both alone and in interaction with early environment, as predictors of individual differences in human mothering. Furthermore, depression does not appear to have a causal role on the variation we report in instrumental care. This suggests that variation in instrumental care varies in association with a gene-early environment effect regardless of current depressive symptomatology. Finally, our findings highlight the importance of examining multiple dimensions of human maternal behavior in studies of genetic associations.
PMCID: PMC3630168  PMID: 23637833
3.  Effects of early life social stress on endocrinology, maternal behavior, and lactation in rats 
Hormones and behavior  2013;64(4):10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.08.011.
Exposure to early life stress is a predictor of mental health disorders, and two common forms of early life stress are social conflict and impaired maternal care, which are predominant features of postpartum mood disorders. Exposure of lactating female rats to a novel male intruder involves robust social conflict and induces deficits in maternal care towards the F1 offspring. This exposure is an early life social stressor for female F1 pups that induces inefficient lactation associated with central changes in oxytocin (OXT), prolactin (PRL), and arginine vasopressin (AVP) gene expression in adult F1 females.
The mothers of the rats in the current study were either allowed to raise their pups without exposure to a social stressor (control), or presented with a novel male intruder for 1 hour each day on lactation days 2-16 (chronic social stress). The effects of this early life chronic social stress (CSS) exposure on subsequent peripheral endocrinology, maternal behavior, and physiology were assessed.
Exposure of female pups to early life CSS resulted in persistent alterations in maternal endocrinology at the end of lactation (attenuated prolactin and elevated corticosterone), depressed maternal care and aggression, increased restlessness and anxiety-related behavior, impaired lactation, and decreased saccharin preference. The endocrine and behavioral data indicate that early life CSS has long-term effects which are similar to changes seen in clinical populations of depressed mothers, and provide support for the use of the chronic social stress paradigm as an ethologically relevant rodent model for maternal disorders such as postpartum depression and anxiety.
PMCID: PMC3850073  PMID: 24005186
Stress; early life; postpartum depression; anxiety; lactation; estradiol; prolactin; corticosterone
Neuroscience  2008;155(3):809-817.
Naked mole-rats are highly social rodents that live in large colonies characterized by a rigid social and reproductive hierarchy. Only one female, the queen, breeds. Most colony members are non-reproductive subordinates that work cooperatively to rear the young and maintain an underground burrow system. Little is known about the neurobiological basis of the complex sociality exhibited by this species. The neuropeptide oxytocin (Oxt) modulates social bonding and other social behaviors in many vertebrates. Here we examined the distribution of Oxt immunoreactivity in the brains of male and female naked mole-rats. As in other species, the majority of Oxt-immunoreactive (Oxt-ir) cells were found in the paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei, with additional labeled cells scattered throughout the preoptic and anterior hypothalamic areas. Oxt-ir fibers were found traveling toward and through the median eminence, as well as in the tenia tecta, septum, and nucleus of diagonal band of Broca. A moderate network of fibers covered the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and preoptic area, and a particularly dense fiber innervation of the nucleus accumbens and substantia innominata was observed. In the brainstem, Oxt-ir fibers were found in the periaqueductal grey, locus coeruleus, parabrachial nucleus, nucleus of the solitary tract, and nuclueus ambiguus. The high levels of Oxt immunoreactivity in the nucleus accumbens and preoptic area are intriguing, given the link in other rodents between Oxt signaling in these regions and maternal behavior. Although only the queen gives birth or nurses pups in a naked mole-rat colony, most individuals actively participate in pup care.
PMCID: PMC2614305  PMID: 18582538
sex differences; social hierarchy; naked mole-rat; Heterocephalus glaber; sociality; vasopressin
5.  Enhanced Maternal Aggression and Associated Changes in Neuropeptide Gene Expression in Multiparous Rats 
Behavioral neuroscience  2009;123(5):949-957.
While it has often been speculated that prior reproductive experience improves subsequent maternal care, few studies have examined specific changes in behavior during a first versus second lactation. During lactation mothers display heightened aggression toward male intruders, purportedly to protect vulnerable young. In the current study, maternal aggression was examined in primiparous and age-matched, multiparous females on postpartum days 5 (PPD5) and PPD15. Expression of oxytocin (OXT), oxytocin receptor (OXT-R), arginine vasopressin (AVP), arginine vasopressin V1a receptors (V1a), and corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) mRNA was measured following aggression testing at both time points using real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) in brain regions previously implicated in the regulation of maternal aggression. Multiparity significantly enhanced maternal aggression on PPD5 but not on PPD15. In addition, this increased aggression was associated with region and gene specific changes in mRNA expression. These findings indicate that reproductive experience enhances maternal aggression, an effect that may be mediated by region specific alterations in neuropeptidergic activity. The adaptations observed in multiparous females provide an innate model for the study of neuroplasticity in the regulation of aggression.
PMCID: PMC2789430  PMID: 19824761
Offspring protection; oxytocin; vasopressin; corticotrophin releasing hormone; paraventricular nucleus
6.  The Maternally Expressed WRKY Transcription Factor TTG2 Controls Lethality in Interploidy Crosses of Arabidopsis 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(12):e308.
The molecular mechanisms underlying lethality of F1 hybrids between diverged parents are one target of speciation research. Crosses between diploid and tetraploid individuals of the same genotype can result in F1 lethality, and this dosage-sensitive incompatibility plays a role in polyploid speciation. We have identified variation in F1 lethality in interploidy crosses of Arabidopsis thaliana and determined the genetic architecture of the maternally expressed variation via QTL mapping. A single large-effect QTL, DR. STRANGELOVE 1 (DSL1), was identified as well as two QTL with epistatic relationships to DSL1. DSL1 affects the rate of postzygotic lethality via expression in the maternal sporophyte. Fine mapping placed DSL1 in an interval encoding the maternal effect transcription factor TTG2. Maternal parents carrying loss-of-function mutations in TTG2 suppressed the F1 lethality caused by paternal excess interploidy crosses. The frequency of cellularization in the endosperm was similarly affected by both natural variation and ttg2 loss-of-function mutants. The simple genetic basis of the natural variation and effects of single-gene mutations suggests that F1 lethality in polyploids could evolve rapidly. Furthermore, the role of the sporophytically active TTG2 gene in interploidy crosses indicates that the developmental programming of the mother regulates the viability of interploidy hybrid offspring.
Author Summary
Many flowering plants tolerate changes in the number of genome copies (ploidy), but offspring of parents with different ploidies often fail to develop. We investigated this phenomenon in Arabidopsis thaliana and discovered variation in the ability to survive interploidy matings. Two common strains (known as accessions), Ler and Col, are respectively permissive and intolerant when diploid females are mated to tetraploid males of Col. We mapped the genes responsible for this response and identified a major locus, which we call DR. STRANGELOVE1, on chromosome 2, and after finer mapping, defined the locus TRANSPARENT TESTA GLABRA2 (TTG2) as the candidate gene. TTG2 regulates the fate of interploidy crosses, and knock-outs of TTG2 improved the outcome of interploidy matings in both Ler and Col. Furthermore, the two accessions differed in genotype and in expression of this gene. TTG2 is an epidermal regulator whose activity affects seed endosperm development. Importantly, TTG2 acts within tissue of the seed-plant, indicating that a transgenerational interaction is responsible for controlling the outcome of interploidy mating.
Hybrid lethality in crosses between diploids and tetraploids, plants with whole genome duplication, is determined by an epidermal regulator expressed in the maternal tissue that envelops the seed.
PMCID: PMC2596861  PMID: 19071961
7.  Genetic Architecture of Nest Building in Mice LG/J × SM/J 
Maternal care is critical to offspring growth and survival, which is greatly improved by building an effective nest. Some suggest that genetic variation and underlying genetic effects differ between fitness-related traits and other phenotypes. We investigated the genetic architecture of a fitness-related trait, nest building, in F2 female mice intercrossed from inbred strains SM/J and LG/J using a QTL analysis for six related nest phenotypes (Presence and Structure pre- and postpartum, prepartum Material Used and postpartum Temperature). We found 15 direct-effect QTLs explaining from 4 to 13% of the phenotypic variation in nest building, mostly with non-additive effect. Epistatic analyses revealed 71 significant epistatic interactions which together explain from 28.4 to 75.5% of the variation, indicating an important role for epistasis in the adaptive process of nest building behavior in mice. Our results suggest a genetic architecture with small direct effects and a larger number of epistatic interactions as expected for fitness-related phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3361010  PMID: 22654894
maternal behavior; fitness; QTL; epistasis; mice
8.  Identifying the genetic determinants of transcription factor activity 
Genome-wide messenger RNA expression levels are highly heritable. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying this heritability are poorly understood.The influence of trans-acting polymorphisms is often mediated by changes in the regulatory activity of one or more sequence-specific transcription factors (TFs). We use a method that exploits prior information about the DNA-binding specificity of each TF to estimate its genotype-specific regulatory activity. To this end, we perform linear regression of genotype-specific differential mRNA expression on TF-specific promoter-binding affinity.Treating inferred TF activity as a quantitative trait and mapping it across a panel of segregants from an experimental genetic cross allows us to identify trans-acting loci (‘aQTLs') whose allelic variation modulates the TF. A few of these aQTL regions contain the gene encoding the TF itself; several others contain a gene whose protein product is known to interact with the TF.Our method is strictly causal, as it only uses sequence-based features as predictors. Application to budding yeast demonstrates a dramatic increase in statistical power, compared with existing methods, to detect locus-TF associations and trans-acting loci. Our aQTL mapping strategy also succeeds in mouse.
Genetic sequence variation naturally perturbs mRNA expression levels in the cell. In recent years, analysis of parallel genotyping and expression profiling data for segregants from genetic crosses between parental strains has revealed that mRNA expression levels are highly heritable. Expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs), whose allelic variation regulates the expression level of individual genes, have successfully been identified (Brem et al, 2002; Schadt et al, 2003). The molecular mechanisms underlying the heritability of mRNA expression are poorly understood. However, they are likely to involve mediation by transcription factors (TFs). We present a new transcription-factor-centric method that greatly increases our ability to understand what drives the genetic variation in mRNA expression (Figure 1). Our method identifies genomic loci (‘aQTLs') whose allelic variation modulates the protein-level activity of specific TFs. To map aQTLs, we integrate genotyping and expression profiling data with quantitative prior information about DNA-binding specificity of transcription factors in the form of position-specific affinity matrices (Bussemaker et al, 2007). We applied our method in two different organisms: budding yeast and mouse.
In our approach, the inferred TF activity is explicitly treated as a quantitative trait, and genetically mapped. The decrease of ‘phenotype space' from that of all genes (in the eQTL approach) to that of all TFs (in our aQTL approach) increases the statistical power to detect trans-acting loci in two distinct ways. First, as each inferred TF activity is derived from a large number of genes, it is far less noisy than mRNA levels of individual genes. Second, the number of trait/marker combinations that needs to be tested for statistical significance in parallel is roughly two orders of magnitude smaller than for eQTLs. We identified a total of 103 locus-TF associations, a more than six-fold improvement over the 17 locus-TF associations identified by several existing methods (Brem et al, 2002; Yvert et al, 2003; Lee et al, 2006; Smith and Kruglyak, 2008; Zhu et al, 2008). The total number of distinct genomic loci identified as an aQTL equals 31, which includes 11 of the 13 previously identified eQTL hotspots (Smith and Kruglyak, 2008).
To better understand the mechanisms underlying the identified genetic linkages, we examined the genes within each aQTL region. First, we found four ‘local' aQTLs, which encompass the gene encoding the TF itself. This includes the known polymorphism in the HAP1 gene (Brem et al, 2002), but also novel predictions of trans-acting polymorphisms in RFX1, STB5, and HAP4. Second, using high-throughput protein–protein interaction data, we identified putative causal genes for several aQTLs. For example, we predict that a polymorphism in the cyclin-dependent kinase CDC28 antagonistically modulates the functionally distinct cell cycle regulators Fkh1 and Fkh2. In this and other cases, our approach naturally accounts for post-translational modulation of TF activity at the protein level.
We validated our ability to predict locus-TF associations in yeast using gene expression profiles of allele replacement strains from a previous study (Smith and Kruglyak, 2008). Chromosome 15 contains an aQTL whose allelic status influences the activity of no fewer than 30 distinct TFs. This locus includes IRA2, which controls intracellular cAMP levels. We used the gene expression profile of IRA2 replacement strains to confirm that the polymorphism within IRA2 indeed modulates a subset of the TFs whose activity was predicted to link to this locus, and no other TFs.
Application of our approach to mouse data identified an aQTL modulating the activity of a specific TF in liver cells. We identified an aQTL on mouse chromosome 7 for Zscan4, a transcription factor containing four zinc finger domains and a SCAN domain. Even though we could not detect a candidate causal gene for Zscan4p because of lack of information about the mouse genome, our result demonstrates that our method also works in higher eukaryotes.
In summary, aQTL mapping has a greatly improved sensitivity to detect molecular mechanisms underlying the heritability of gene expression. The successful application of our approach to yeast and mouse data underscores the value of explicitly treating the inferred TF activity as a quantitative trait for increasing statistical power of detecting trans-acting loci. Furthermore, our method is computationally efficient, and easily applicable to any other organism whenever prior information about the DNA-binding specificity of TFs is available.
Analysis of parallel genotyping and expression profiling data has shown that mRNA expression levels are highly heritable. Currently, only a tiny fraction of this genetic variance can be mechanistically accounted for. The influence of trans-acting polymorphisms on gene expression traits is often mediated by transcription factors (TFs). We present a method that exploits prior knowledge about the in vitro DNA-binding specificity of a TF in order to map the loci (‘aQTLs') whose inheritance modulates its protein-level regulatory activity. Genome-wide regression of differential mRNA expression on predicted promoter affinity is used to estimate segregant-specific TF activity, which is subsequently mapped as a quantitative phenotype. In budding yeast, our method identifies six times as many locus-TF associations and more than twice as many trans-acting loci as all existing methods combined. Application to mouse data from an F2 intercross identified an aQTL on chromosome VII modulating the activity of Zscan4 in liver cells. Our method has greatly improved statistical power over existing methods, is mechanism based, strictly causal, computationally efficient, and generally applicable.
PMCID: PMC2964119  PMID: 20865005
gene expression; gene regulatory networks; genetic variation; quantitative trait loci; transcription factors
9.  Maternal Programming of Sexual Behavior and Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Function in the Female Rat 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(5):e2210.
Variations in parental care predict the age of puberty, sexual activity in adolescence and the age at first pregnancy in humans. These findings parallel descriptions of maternal effects on phenotypic variation in reproductive function in other species. Despite the prevalence of such reports, little is known about potential biological mechanisms and this especially true for effects on female reproductive development. We examined the hypothesis that parental care might alter hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian function and thus reproductive function in the female offspring of rat mothers that vary pup licking/grooming (LG) over the first week postpartum. As adults, the female offspring of Low LG mothers showed 1) increased sexual receptivity; 2) increased plasma levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and progesterone at proestrus; 3) an increased positive-feedback effect of estradiol on both plasma LH levels and gonadotropin releasing-hormone (GnRH) expression in the medial preoptic region; and 4) increased estrogen receptor α (ERα) expression in the anterioventral paraventricular nucleus, a system that regulates GnRH. The results of a cross-fostering study provide evidence for a direct effect of postnatal maternal care as well as a possible prenatal influence. Indeed, we found evidence for increased fetal testosterone levels at embryonic day 20 in the female fetuses of High compared to Low LG mothers. Finally, the female offspring of Low LG mothers showed accelerated puberty compared to those of High LG mothers. These data suggest maternal effects in the rat on the development of neuroendocrine systems that regulate female sexual behaviour. Together with studies revealing a maternal effect on the maternal behavior of the female offspring, these findings suggest that maternal care can program alternative reproductive phenotypes in the rat through regionally-specific effects on ERα expression.
PMCID: PMC2374899  PMID: 18493313
10.  Plasma Oxytocin Concentration during Pregnancy is associated with Development of Postpartum Depression 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2011;36(9):1886-1893.
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects up to 19% of all women after parturition. The non-apeptide oxytocin (OXT) is involved in adjustment to pregnancy, maternal behavior, and bonding. Our aim was to examine the possible association between plasma OXT during pregnancy and the development of PPD symptoms. A total of 74 healthy, pregnant women were included in this prospective study. During the third trimester of pregnancy and within 2 weeks after parturition, PPD symptoms were assessed using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Blood samples for plasma OXT assessment were collected in the third trimester. Following the literature, participants with postpartum EPDS scores of 10 or more were regarded as being at risk for PPD development (rPPD group). In a logistic regression analysis, plasma OXT was included as a potential predictor for being at risk for PPD. Results were controlled for prepartal EPDS score, sociodemographic and birth-outcome variables. Plasma OXT concentration in mid-pregnancy significantly predicted PPD symptoms at 2 weeks postpartum. Compared with the no-risk-for-PPD group, the rPPD group was characterized by lower plasma OXT concentrations. To our knowledge, this is the first study to show an association between prepartal plasma OXT concentration and postpartal symptoms of PPD in humans. Assuming a causal relationship, enhancing OXT release during pregnancy could serve as a potential target in prepartum PPD prevention, and help to minimize adverse effects of PPD on the mother–child relationship.
PMCID: PMC3154107  PMID: 21562482
postpartum depression; oxytocin; pregnancy; EPDS; adaptation to motherhood; biological psychiatry; depression; unipolar/bipolar; neuroendocrinology; epidemiology; postpartum depression; oxytocin; pregnancy; epds; adaptation to motherhood
11.  Opportunistic mothers: female marmosets (Callithrix kuhlii) reduce their investment in offspring when they have to, and when they can 
Journal of human evolution  2005;49(1):122-142.
All female primates incur energetic costs associated with producing and caring for offspring, but females belonging to the New World primate family Callitrichidae, the marmosets and tamarins, appear to face even further demands. In fact, the energetic demands of rearing callitrichid infants are thought to have led to the evolution of cooperative infant care in these species. If this explanation is true, then one might expect that natural selection should also have shaped patterns of maternal behavior to be sensitive to the costs of reproduction and equipped females to reduce their investment in offspring under certain conditions. Therefore, we examined the maternal effort and postpartum endocrine profiles of individual female marmosets (Callithrix kuhlii) across conditions that represented two hallmarks of callitrichid reproduction—conception during the early postpartum period and alloparental assistance. When females conceived during the early postpartum period and faced the upcoming demands of caring for their newly conceived litters (Study 1), they significantly reduced their caregiving effort and had significantly higher postpartum levels of estradiol relative to breeding attempts in which conception occurred later in the postpartum period. Postpartum estradiol was negatively correlated with maternal carrying effort. When experienced alloparents were present (Study 2), females again reduced their caregiving effort relative to breeding attempts in which experienced alloparents were not present. Postpartum cortisol, however, did not vary as a function of experienced alloparental assistance. The results of these studies suggest that female marmosets have been subjected to similar selection pressures as females of other primate taxa—to maximize their reproductive success by reducing their investment in offspring under the worst and best of conditions—and suggest that hormones may mediate within-female variation in maternal care. These studies also provide support for the notion that mothers are “flexible opportunists” when it comes to providing care to their young.
PMCID: PMC2987622  PMID: 15935439
Wied’s black tufted-ear marmoset; Callitrichidae; Maternal care; Postpartum conception; Lactation; Alloparental care
12.  Association and haplotype analysis of candidate genes in five genomic regions linked to sow maternal infanticide in a white Duroc × Erhualian resource population 
BMC Genetics  2011;12:24.
Maternal infanticide is an extreme and failed maternal behavior, which is defined as an active attack on piglets using the jaws, resulting in serious or fatal bite wounds. It brings big economic loss to the pig industry and severe problems to piglets' welfare. But little is known about the genetic background of this behavior. Quantitative trait loci (QTL) for maternal infanticide were identified in a White Duroc × Erhualian intercross by a non-parametric linkage analysis (NPL) in our previous study. In this study, associations of 194 microsatellite markers used in NPL analysis with maternal infanticide behavior were further analyzed by transmission-disequilibrium test (TDT). On this basis, seven genes (ESR2, EAAT2, BDNF, OXTR, 5-HTR2C, DRD1 and GABRA6) at five genomic regions were selected and further analyzed. Associations of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and haplotypes in each gene with maternal infanticide behavior were evaluated.
Microsatellite markers on pig chromosome (SSC) 2, 13, 15, and X displayed significance at P < 0.05 by both TDT and NPL. Of the seven candidate genes, three ESR2 SNPs had nominal evidence for association (P < 0.05). Allele A at EAAT2 g. 233G > A and allele T at DRD1 g.1013C > G > T also showed evidence of overtransmission to infanticidal sows. In the overall tests of association of haplotypes, candidate genes of ESR2, EAAT2 and DRD1 achieved overall significance level (P < 0.05). Haplotype [A; A; G], [G; A; G], [A; G; G] and [C; C], respectively, from ESR2, EAAT2 and DRD1 showed higher frequencies to infanticidal sows (P < 0.05). Alleles among haplotypes and SNPs which showed an overtransmission to infanticidal sows were from White Duroc.
From association tests of SNPs and haplotypes, ESR2, EAAT2 and DRD1 showed significant associations with maternal infanticide. This result supported the existence of QTL for maternal infanticide behavior on SSC1, SSC2 and SSC16.
PMCID: PMC3044675  PMID: 21303561
13.  The PEG13-DMR and brain-specific enhancers dictate imprinted expression within the 8q24 intellectual disability risk locus 
Genomic imprinting is the epigenetic marking of genes that results in parent-of-origin monoallelic expression. Most imprinted domains are associated with differentially DNA methylated regions (DMRs) that originate in the gametes, and are maintained in somatic tissues after fertilization. This allelic methylation profile is associated with a plethora of histone tail modifications that orchestrates higher order chromatin interactions. The mouse chromosome 15 imprinted cluster contains multiple brain-specific maternally expressed transcripts including Ago2, Chrac1, Trappc9 and Kcnk9 and a paternally expressed gene, Peg13. The promoter of Peg13 is methylated on the maternal allele and is the sole DMR within the locus. To determine the extent of imprinting within the human orthologous region on chromosome 8q24, a region associated with autosomal recessive intellectual disability, Birk-Barel mental retardation and dysmorphism syndrome, we have undertaken a systematic analysis of allelic expression and DNA methylation of genes mapping within an approximately 2 Mb region around TRAPPC9.
Utilizing allele-specific RT-PCR, bisulphite sequencing, chromatin immunoprecipitation and chromosome conformation capture (3C) we show the reciprocal expression of the novel, paternally expressed, PEG13 non-coding RNA and maternally expressed KCNK9 genes in brain, and the biallelic expression of flanking transcripts in a range of tissues. We identify a tandem-repeat region overlapping the PEG13 transcript that is methylated on the maternal allele, which binds CTCF-cohesin in chromatin immunoprecipitation experiments and possesses enhancer-blocker activity. Using 3C, we identify mutually exclusive approximately 58 and 500 kb chromatin loops in adult frontal cortex between a novel brain-specific enhancer, marked by H3K4me1 and H3K27ac, with the KCNK9 and PEG13 promoters which we propose regulates brain-specific expression.
We have characterised the molecular mechanism responsible for reciprocal allelic expression of the PEG13 and KCNK9 transcripts. Therefore, our observations may have important implications for identifying the cause of intellectual disabilities associated with the 8q24 locus.
PMCID: PMC3986935  PMID: 24667089
Imprinting; DNA methylation; Chromatin looping
14.  Evidence of maternal QTL affecting growth and obesity in adult mice 
Mammalian Genome  2009;20(5):269-280.
Most quantitative trait loci (QTL) studies fail to account for the effect that the maternal genotype may have on an individual’s phenotypes, even though maternal effect QTL have been shown to account for considerable variation in growth and obesity traits in mouse models. Moreover, the fetal programming theory suggests that maternal effects influence an offspring’s adult fitness, although the genetic nature of fetal programming remains unclear. Within this context, our study focused on mapping genomic regions associated with maternal effect QTL by analyzing the phenotypes of chromosomes 2 and 7 subcongenic mice from genetically distinct dams. We analyzed 12 chromosome 2 subcongenic strains that spanned from 70 to 180 Mb with CAST/EiJ donor regions on the background of C57BL/6 J, and 14 chromosome 7 subcongenic strains that spanned from 81 to 111 Mb with BALB/cByJ donor regions on C57BL/6ByJ background. Maternal QTL analyses were performed on the basis of overlapping donor regions between subcongenic strains. We identified several highly significant (P < 5 × 10−4) maternal QTL influencing total body weight, organ weight, and fat pad weights in both sets of subcongenics. These QTL accounted for 1.9-11.7% of the phenotypic variance for growth and obesity and greatly narrowed the genomic regions associated with the maternal genetic effects. These maternal effect QTL controlled phenotypic traits in adult mice, suggesting that maternal influences at early stages of development may permanently affect offspring performance. Identification of maternal effects in our survey of two sets of subcongenic strains, representing approximately 5% of the mouse genome, supports the hypothesis that maternal effects represent significant sources of genetic variation that are largely ignored in genetic studies.
PMCID: PMC2690847  PMID: 19399551
15.  Broad Epigenetic Signature of Maternal Care in the Brain of Adult Rats 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e14739.
Maternal care is associated with long-term effects on behavior and epigenetic programming of the NR3C1 (GLUCOCORTICOID RECEPTOR) gene in the hippocampus of both rats and humans. In the rat, these effects are reversed by cross-fostering, demonstrating that they are defined by epigenetic rather than genetic processes. However, epigenetic changes at a single gene promoter are unlikely to account for the range of outcomes and the persistent change in expression of hundreds of additional genes in adult rats in response to differences in maternal care.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We examine here using high-density oligonucleotide array the state of DNA methylation, histone acetylation and gene expression in a 7 million base pair region of chromosome 18 containing the NR3C1 gene in the hippocampus of adult rats. Natural variations in maternal care are associated with coordinate epigenetic changes spanning over a hundred kilobase pairs. The adult offspring of high compared to low maternal care mothers show epigenetic changes in promoters, exons, and gene ends associated with higher transcriptional activity across many genes within the locus examined. Other genes in this region remain unchanged, indicating a clustered yet specific and patterned response. Interestingly, the chromosomal region containing the protocadherin-α, -β, and -γ (Pcdh) gene families implicated in synaptogenesis show the highest differential response to maternal care.
The results suggest for the first time that the epigenetic response to maternal care is coordinated in clusters across broad genomic areas. The data indicate that the epigenetic response to maternal care involves not only single candidate gene promoters but includes transcriptional and intragenic sequences, as well as those residing distantly from transcription start sites. These epigenetic and transcriptional profiles constitute the first tiling microarray data set exploring the relationship between epigenetic modifications and RNA expression in both protein coding and non-coding regions across a chromosomal locus in the mammalian brain.
PMCID: PMC3046141  PMID: 21386994
16.  Effects of Early Life Social Stress on Maternal Behavior and Neuroendocrinology 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2012;38(2):219-228.
Maternal mood disorders such as depression and chronic anxiety can negatively affect the lives of both mothers and their adult offspring. An active focus of maternal depression and anxiety research has been the role of chronic social stress in the development of these disorders. Chronic exposure to social stress is common in humans, especially in lactating mothers, and postpartum mood disorders have been correlated with high levels of social conflict and low levels of social support. Recent studies have described an effective and ethologically relevant chronic social stress (CSS) based rodent model for postpartum depression and anxiety. Since CSS attenuates maternal behavior and impairs both dam and offspring growth, it was hypothesized that CSS is an ethologically relevant form of early life stress for the developing female offspring and may have effects on subsequent adult maternal behavior and neuroendocrinology Dams exposed to early life CSS as infants display substantial increases in pup retrieval and nursing behavior that are specifically associated with attenuated oxytocin, prolactin, and vasopressin gene expression in brain nuclei involved in the control of maternal behavior. Since the growth patterns of both groups were similar despite substantial increases in nursing duration, the early life CSS dams exhibited an attenuated nursing efficiency. It is concluded that early life CSS has long term effects on the neuroendocrinology of maternal care (oxytocin and prolactin) which results in decreased nursing efficiency in the adult dams. The data support the use of early life CSS as an effective model for stress-induced impairments in nursing, such as those associated with postpartum depression and anxiety.
PMCID: PMC3477290  PMID: 22770862
17.  Genetic and genomic analysis of hyperlipidemia, obesity and diabetes using (C57BL/6J × TALLYHO/JngJ) F2 mice 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:713.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is the most common form of diabetes in humans and is closely associated with dyslipidemia and obesity that magnifies the mortality and morbidity related to T2D. The genetic contribution to human T2D and related metabolic disorders is evident, and mostly follows polygenic inheritance. The TALLYHO/JngJ (TH) mice are a polygenic model for T2D characterized by obesity, hyperinsulinemia, impaired glucose uptake and tolerance, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia.
In order to determine the genetic factors that contribute to these T2D related characteristics in TH mice, we interbred TH mice with C57BL/6J (B6) mice. The parental, F1, and F2 mice were phenotyped at 8, 12, 16, 20, and 24 weeks of age for 4-hour fasting plasma triglyceride, cholesterol, insulin, and glucose levels and body, fat pad and carcass weights. The F2 mice were genotyped genome-wide and used for quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping. We also applied a genetical genomic approach using a subset of the F2 mice to seek candidate genes underlying the QTLs. Major QTLs were detected on chromosomes (Chrs) 1, 11, 4, and 8 for hypertriglyceridemia, 1 and 3 for hypercholesterolemia, 4 for hyperglycemia, 11 and 1 for body weight, 1 for fat pad weight, and 11 and 14 for carcass weight. Most alleles, except for Chr 3 and 14 QTLs, increased phenotypic values when contributed by the TH strain. Fourteen pairs of interacting loci were detected, none of which overlapped the major QTLs. The QTL interval linked to hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia on distal Chr 1 contains Apoa2 gene. Sequencing analysis revealed polymorphisms of Apoa2 in TH mice, suggesting Apoa2 as the candidate gene for the hyperlipidemia QTL. Gene expression analysis added novel information and aided in selection of candidates underlying the QTLs.
We identified several genetic loci that affect the quantitative variations of plasma lipid and glucose levels and obesity traits in a TH × B6 intercross. Polymorphisms in Apoa2 gene are suggested to be responsible for the Chr 1 QTL linked to hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia. Further, genetical genomic analysis led to potential candidate genes for the QTLs.
PMCID: PMC3022919  PMID: 21167066
18.  A Dominant X-Linked QTL Regulating Pubertal Timing in Mice Found by Whole Genome Scanning and Modified Interval-Specific Congenic Strain Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(8):e3021.
Pubertal timing in mammals is triggered by reactivation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis and modulated by both genetic and environmental factors. Strain-dependent differences in vaginal opening among inbred mouse strains suggest that genetic background contribute significantly to the puberty timing, although the exact mechanism remains unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We performed a genome-wide scanning for linkage in reciprocal crosses between two strains, C3H/HeJ (C3H) and C57BL6/J (B6), which differed significantly in the pubertal timing. Vaginal opening (VO) was used to characterize pubertal timing in female mice, and the age at VO of all female mice (two parental strains, F1 and F2 progeny) was recorded. A genome-wide search was performed in 260 phenotypically extreme F2 mice out of 464 female progeny of the F1 intercrosses to identify quantitative trait loci (QTLs) controlling this trait. A QTL significantly associated was mapped to the DXMit166 marker (15.5 cM, LOD = 3.86, p<0.01) in the reciprocal cross population (C3HB6F2). This QTL contributed 2.1 days to the timing of VO, which accounted for 32.31% of the difference between the original strains. Further study showed that the QTL was B6-dominant and explained 10.5% of variation to this trait with a power of 99.4% at an alpha level of 0.05.The location of the significant ChrX QTL found by genome scanning was then fine-mapped to a region of ∼2.5 cM between marker DXMit68 and rs29053133 by generating and phenotyping a panel of 10 modified interval-specific congenic strains (mISCSs).
Such findings in our study lay a foundation for positional cloning of genes regulating the timing of puberty, and also reveal the fact that chromosome X (the sex chromosome) does carry gene(s) which take part in the regulative pathway of the pubertal timing in mice.
PMCID: PMC2516528  PMID: 18725948
19.  Deficient maternal care resulting from immunological stress during pregnancy is associated with a sex-dependent enhancement of conditioned fear in the offspring 
Activation of maternal stress response systems during pregnancy has been associated with altered postpartum maternal care and subsequent abnormalities in the offspring’s brain and behavioral development. It remains unknown, however, whether similar effects may be induced by exposure to immunological stress during pregnancy. The present study was designed to address this issue in a mouse model of prenatal immune activation by the viral mimic polyriboinosinic–polyribocytidilic acid (PolyI:C). Pregnant mice were exposed to PolyI:C-induced immune challenge or sham treatment, and offspring born to PolyI:C- and sham-treated dams were simultaneously cross-fostered to surrogate rearing mothers, which had either experienced inflammatory or vehicle treatment during pregnancy. We evaluated the effects of the maternal immunological manipulation on postpartum maternal behavior, and we assessed the prenatal and postnatal maternal influences on anxiety- and fear-related behavior in the offspring at the peri-adolescent and adult stage of development. We found that PolyI:C treatment during pregnancy led to changes in postpartum maternal behavior in the form of reduced pup licking/grooming and increased nest building activity. Furthermore, the adoption of neonates by surrogate rearing mothers, which had experienced PolyI:C-induced immunological stress during pregnancy, led to enhanced conditioned fear in the peri-adolescent and adult offspring, an effect that was exclusively seen in female but not male subjects. Unconditioned (innate) anxiety-related behavior as assessed in the elevated plus maze and open field explorations tests were not affected by the prenatal and postnatal manipulations. Our results thus highlight that being raised by gestationally immune-challenged surrogate mothers increases the vulnerability for specific forms of fear-related behavioral pathology in later life, and that this association may be mediated by deficits in postpartum maternal care. This may have important implications for the identification and characterization of early-life risk factors involved in the developmental etiology of fear-related neuropsychiatric disorders.
PMCID: PMC3164015  PMID: 21547620
Adoption; Anxiety; Fear; Infection; Maternal behavior; Pregnancy
20.  Genetic Analysis of Atherosclerosis and Glucose Homeostasis in an Intercross Between C57BL/6 and BALB/cJ Apolipoprotein E-Deficient Mice 
Diabetic patients have an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis and related complications compared to non-diabetic individuals. The increased cardiovascular risk associated with diabetes is due in part to genetic variations that influence both glucose homeostasis and atherosclerotic lesion growth. Mouse strains C57BL/6J (B6) and BALB/cJ (BALB) exhibit distinct differences in fasting plasma glucose and atherosclerotic lesion size when deficient in apolipoprotein E (Apoe−/− . Quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis was performed to determine genetic factors influencing the two phenotypes.
Methods and Results
266 female F2 mice were generated from an intercross between B6.Apoe−/− and BALB.Apoe−/− mice and fed a Western diet for 12 weeks. Atherosclerotic lesions in the aortic root, fasting plasma glucose, and body weight were measured. 130 microsatellite markers across the entire genome were genotyped. Four significant QTLs, Ath1 on chromosome (Chr) 1, Ath41 on Chr2, Ath42 on Chr5, and Ath29 on Chr9, and one suggestive QTL on Chr4, were identified for atherosclerotic lesion size. Four significant QTLs, Bglu3 and Bglu12 on Chr1, Bglu13 on Chr5, Bglu15 on Chr12, and two suggestive QTLs on Chr9 and Chr15 were identified for fasting glucose levels on the chow diet. Two significant QTLs, Bglu3 and Bglu13, and one suggestive locus on Chr8 were identified for fasting glucose on the Western diet. One significant locus on Chr1 and two suggestive loci on Chr9 and Chr19 were identified for body weight. Ath1 and Ath42 coincided with Bglu3 and Bglu13, respectively, in the confidence interval.
We have identified novel QTLs that have major influences on atherosclerotic lesion size and glucose homeostasis. The colocalization of QTLs for atherosclerosis and diabetes suggests possible genetic connections between the two diseases.
PMCID: PMC3329596  PMID: 22294616
Atherosclerosis; type 2 diabetes; quantitative trait locus; hyperglycemia
21.  Normal Maternal Behavior, But Increased Pup Mortality, in Conditional Oxytocin Receptor Knockout Females 
Behavioral neuroscience  2010;124(5):677-685.
Oxytocin (Oxt) and the Oxt receptor (Oxtr) are implicated in the onset of maternal behavior in a variety of species. Recently, we developed two Oxtr knockout lines: a total body knockout (Oxtr−/−) and a conditional Oxtr knockout (OxtrFB/FB) in which the Oxtr is lacking only in regions of the forebrain, allowing knockout females to potentially nurse and care for their biological offspring. In the current study, we assessed maternal behavior of postpartum OxtrFB/FB females toward their own pups and maternal behavior of virgin Oxtr−/− females toward foster pups and compared knockouts of both lines to wildtype (Oxtr+/+) littermates. We found that both Oxtr−/− and OxtrFB/FB females appear to have largely normal maternal behaviors. However, with first litters, approximately 40% of the OxtrFB/FB knockout dams experienced high pup mortality, compared to fewer than 10% of the Oxtr+/+ dams. We then went on to test whether or not this phenotype occurred in subsequent litters or when the dams were exposed to an environmental disturbance. We found that regardless of the degree of external disturbance, OxtrFB/FB females lost more pups on their first and second litters compared to wildtype females. Possible reasons for higher pup mortality in OxtrFB/FB females are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3175421  PMID: 20939667
conditional knockout; stress; maternal behavior; aggression
22.  Incident HIV during Pregnancy and Postpartum and Risk of Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(2):e1001608.
Alison Drake and colleagues conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate maternal HIV incidence during pregnancy and the postpartum period and to compare mother-to-child HIV transmission risk among women with incident versus chronic infection.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Women may have persistent risk of HIV acquisition during pregnancy and postpartum. Estimating risk of HIV during these periods is important to inform optimal prevention approaches. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate maternal HIV incidence during pregnancy/postpartum and to compare mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) risk among women with incident versus chronic infection.
Methods and Findings
We searched PubMed, Embase, and AIDS-related conference abstracts between January 1, 1980, and October 31, 2013, for articles and abstracts describing HIV acquisition during pregnancy/postpartum. The inclusion criterion was studies with data on recent HIV during pregnancy/postpartum. Random effects models were constructed to pool HIV incidence rates, cumulative HIV incidence, hazard ratios (HRs), or odds ratios (ORs) summarizing the association between pregnancy/postpartum status and HIV incidence, and MTCT risk and rates. Overall, 1,176 studies met the search criteria, of which 78 met the inclusion criterion, and 47 contributed data. Using data from 19 cohorts representing 22,803 total person-years, the pooled HIV incidence rate during pregnancy/postpartum was 3.8/100 person-years (95% CI 3.0–4.6): 4.7/100 person-years during pregnancy and 2.9/100 person-years postpartum (p = 0.18). Pooled cumulative HIV incidence was significantly higher in African than non-African countries (3.6% versus 0.3%, respectively; p<0.001). Risk of HIV was not significantly higher among pregnant (HR 1.3, 95% CI 0.5–2.1) or postpartum women (HR 1.1, 95% CI 0.6–1.6) than among non-pregnant/non-postpartum women in five studies with available data. In African cohorts, MTCT risk was significantly higher among women with incident versus chronic HIV infection in the postpartum period (OR 2.9, 95% CI 2.2–3.9) or in pregnancy/postpartum periods combined (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.2–4.4). However, the small number of studies limited power to detect associations and sources of heterogeneity.
Pregnancy and the postpartum period are times of persistent HIV risk, at rates similar to “high risk” cohorts. MTCT risk was elevated among women with incident infections. Detection and prevention of incident HIV in pregnancy/postpartum should be prioritized, and is critical to decrease MTCT.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Worldwide, about 3.4 million children younger than 15 years old (mostly living in sub-Saharan Africa) are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS by gradually destroying immune system cells, thereby leaving infected individuals susceptible to other serious infections. In 2012 alone, 230,000 children (more than 700 every day) were newly infected with HIV. Most HIV infections among children are the result of mother-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. The rate of MTCT (and deaths among HIV-positive pregnant women from complications related to HIV infection) can be greatly reduced by testing women for HIV infection during pregnancy (antenatal HIV testing), treating HIV-positive women with antiretroviral drugs (ARVs, powerful drugs that control HIV replication and allow the immune system to recover) during pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding, and giving ARVs to their newborn babies.
Why Was This Study Done?
The World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have developed a global plan that aims to move towards eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015 and towards keeping their mothers alive. To ensure the plan's success, the incidence of HIV (the number of new infections) among women and the rate of MTCT must be reduced by increasing ARV uptake by mothers and their infants for the prevention of MTCT. However, the risk of HIV infection among pregnant women and among women who have recently given birth (postpartum women) is poorly understood because, although guidelines recommend repeat HIV testing during late pregnancy or at delivery in settings where HIV infection is common, pregnant women are often tested only once for HIV infection. The lack of retesting represents a missed opportunity to identify pregnant and postpartum women who have recently acquired HIV and to prevent MTCT by initiating ARV therapy. In this systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) and meta-analysis (a study that uses statistical methods to combine the results of several studies), the researchers estimate maternal HIV incidence during pregnancy and the postpartum period, and compare the risk of MTCT among women with incident (new) and chronic (long-standing) HIV infection.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 47 studies (35 undertaken in Africa) that examined recent HIV acquisition by women during pregnancy and the 12-month postpartum period. They used random effects statistical models to estimate the pooled HIV incidence rate and cumulative HIV incidence (the number of new infections per number of people at risk), and the association between pregnancy/postpartum status and HIV incidence and MTCT risk and rates. The pooled HIV incidence rate among pregnant/postpartum women estimated from 19 studies (all from sub-Saharan Africa) that reported HIV incidence rates was 3.8/100 person-years. The pooled cumulative HIV incidence was significantly higher in African countries than in non-African countries (3.6% and 0.3%, respectively; a “significant” difference is one that is unlikely to arise by chance). In the five studies that provided suitable data, the risk of HIV acquisition was similar in pregnant, postpartum, and non-pregnant/non-postpartum women. Finally, among African women, the risk of MTCT was 2.9-fold higher during the postpartum period among those who had recently acquired HIV than among those with chronic HIV infection, and 2.3-fold higher during the pregnancy/postpartum periods combined.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that women living in regions where HIV infection is common are at high risk of acquiring HIV infection during pregnancy and the postpartum period and that mothers who acquire HIV during pregnancy or postpartum are more likely to pass the infection on to their offspring than mothers with chronic HIV infections. However, the small number of studies included in this meta-analysis and the use of heterogeneous research methodologies in these studies may limit the accuracy of these findings. Nevertheless, these findings have important implications for the global plan to eliminate HIV infections in children. First, they suggest that women living in regions where HIV infection is common should be offered repeat HIV testing (using sensitive methods to enhance early detection of infection) during pregnancy and in the postpartum period to detect incident HIV infections, and should be promptly referred to HIV care and treatment. Second, they suggest that prevention of HIV transmission during pregnancy and postpartum should be prioritized, for example, by counseling women about the need to use condoms to prevent transmission during this period of their lives.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on children and HIV/AIDS and on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (in English and Spanish)
The 2013 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report provides information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it; the 2013 UNAIDS Progress Report on the Global Plan provides information on progress towards eliminating new HIV infections among children; the UNAIDS Believe it. Do it website provides information about the campaign to support the UNAIDS global plan
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS, including stories from young people infected with HIV, are available through Avert, NAM/aidsmap, and Healthtalkonline
PMCID: PMC3934828  PMID: 24586123
23.  Implications of temporal variation in maternal care for the prediction of neurobiological and behavioral outcomes in offspring 
Behavioral neuroscience  2013;127(1):33-46.
Previous studies in Long-Evans rats demonstrated a significant relationship between variation in pup licking/grooming and arched-back nursing (LG-ABN) and offspring development. However, maternal care is dynamic and exhibits significant temporal variation. In the current study, we assessed temporal variation in LG and ABN in lactating rats across the circadian cycle and determined the impact of these behaviors for the prediction of offspring hypothalamic gene expression, anxiety-like behavior, and responsiveness to high fat diet (HFD). We find that distinguishing between dams that engage in stable individual differences in maternal behavior (Low, Mid, High) requires assessment across the light-dark phases of the light cycle and across multiple postpartum days. Amongst juvenile female offspring, we find a positive correlation between maternal LG and mRNA levels of estrogen receptor alpha and beta and the oxytocin receptor (when LG is assessed across the light-dark cycle or in the dark phase). In young adults, we find sex-specific effects, with female High LG offspring exhibiting increased exploration of a novel environment and increased latency to approach HFD and male High LG offspring displaying increased activity in a novel environment and reduced HFD consumption. Importantly, these effects on behavior were primarily evident when LG was assessed across the light-dark cycle and ABN was not associated with these measures. Overall, our findings illustrate the dissociation between the effects of LG and ABN on offspring development and provide critical insights into the temporal characteristics of maternal behavior that have methodological implications for the study of maternal effects.
PMCID: PMC3947603  PMID: 23398440
medial preoptic area; open-field test; high fat diet; circadian; Long Evans rats
24.  First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First Seven Years 
Using data from the first 2 phases of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care, we examine the links between maternal employment in the first 12 months of life and cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes for children at age 3, age 4½, and first grade. Drawing on theory and prior research from developmental psychology as well as economics and sociology, we address three main questions. First, what associations exist between first-year maternal employment and cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes for children over the first seven years of life? Second, to what extent do any such associations vary by the child’s gender and temperament, or the mother’s occupation? Third, to what extent do mother’s earnings, the home environment (maternal depressive symptoms, sensitivity, and HOME scores), and the type and quality of child care mediate or offset any associations between first-year employment and child outcomes, and what is the net effect of first-year maternal employment once these factors are taken into account?
We compare families in which mothers worked full time (55%), part time (23%), or did not work (22%) in the first year for non-Hispanic white children (N=900) and for African-American children (N=113). Comparisons are also made taking into account the timing of mothers’ employment within the first year. A rich set of control variables are included. OLS and SEM analyses are constructed.
With regard to cognitive outcomes, first, we find that full-time maternal employment in the first 12 months of life (but not part-time employment) is associated with significantly lower scores on some, but not all, measures of cognitive development at age 3, 4 ½, and first grade for non-Hispanic white children, but with no significant associations for the small sample of African-American children Part-time employment in the first year is associated with higher scores than full-time employment for some measures. Employment in the second and third year of life is not associated with the cognitive outcomes. Second, we examine the role of the child’s gender and temperament and the mother’s occupation in moderating the associations between first-year maternal employment and cognitive outcomes, but find few significant interactions for either child characteristics or mother’s occupation. Third, we examine the role of an extensive set of potential mediators – the mother’s earnings, the home environment, and the type and quality of child care. We find that mothers who worked full time have higher income in the first year of life and thereafter, that mothers who worked part time have higher HOME and maternal sensitivity scores than mothers who did not work or worked full time, and that mothers who worked either full time or part time were more likely to place their children in high-quality child care by age 3 and 4 ½ and their children spent more time in center-based care by age 4 ½ than in families where mothers did not work in the first year of life. However, we also find some links between first-year maternal employment and elevated levels of maternal depressive symptoms thereafter. Turning to results from structural equation modeling, we find that the overall effects of first-year maternal employment on the cognitive outcomes are neutral. This occurs because significantly negative direct effects of full-time first-year employment are offset by significantly positive indirect effects working through more use of center-based care and greater maternal sensitivity by age 4 ½.
Regarding social and emotional outcomes, several findings, again limited to non-Hispanic white children, stand out. First, we find no significant associations between first-year maternal employment and later social and emotional outcomes (including attachment security) when comparing children whose mothers worked full-time or part-time in the first year with the reference group of children whose mothers did not work in the first year, although in models that take the timing of employment within the first year into account, we find some significant associations between full-time maternal employment in the first year and higher levels of caregiver- or teacher-reported externalizing problems at age 4 ½ and first grade. Second, part-time maternal employment by 12 months tends to be associated with fewer externalizing problems at age 4 ½ and first grade than full time maternal employment by 12 months. These results are unchanged when we allow for the possibility of moderation by child characteristics or maternal occupation. Third, the results from SEM models indicate that, while neither full-time nor part-time first-year employment has significant total effects on children’s externalizing behavior problems at age 4 ½ or first grade, part-time first-year employment has indirect positive effects, working primarily through differences in the home environment and maternal sensitivity. Another important finding from the SEM models is that center-based care, which is often associated with maternal employment, is not significantly associated with elevated levels of child behavior problems.
Taken together, our findings provide new insight as to the net effects of first-year maternal employment as well as the potential pathways through which associations between first-year maternal employment and later child outcomes, where present, come about. Our SEM results indicate that, on average, the associations between first-year maternal employment and later cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes are neutral, because negative effects, where present, are offset by positive effects. These results confirm that maternal employment in the first year of life may confer both advantages and disadvantages and that for the average non-Hispanic white child, those effects balance each other.
PMCID: PMC4139074  PMID: 25152543
25.  Hormonal and experiential predictors of infant survivorship and maternal behavior in a monogamous primate (Callicebus cupreus) 
American journal of primatology  2012;74(5):462-470.
To better understand the roles that hormones and experience play in infant survival and maternal behavior in a biparental primate species, we analyzed urinary estrone (E1C) and pregnanediol glucuronide (PdG) from 24 socially housed titi monkey (Callicebus cupreus) females over 54 pregnancies (N = 1430 samples). Pregnancies were categorized according to whether the infant survived (N = 35) or not (N = 19), and by maternal parity (primiparous: N = 9; multiparous: N = 45). Mothers of infants that survived had a significantly greater drop in PdG from the third trimester to the first week postpartum than mothers of infants that did not survive. Multiparous mothers had a greater increase in PdG from the first to the third trimester as well as greater increases in the E1C:PdG ratio from the first trimester to the third trimester and from the third trimester to the first week postpartum. There were positive relationships between third trimester PdG and maternal carrying and nursing during the first week postpartum, and between maternal age and carrying during the infant’s first month of life. There was a negative correlation between maternal age and PdG during the third trimester. These results suggest that elevated progesterone during late pregnancy followed by progesterone withdrawal immediately following parturition is associated with greater probability of infant survivorship and maternal behavior in this species, and that older females engage in more postpartum maternal care.
PMCID: PMC4247788  PMID: 22318880
steroid hormones; maternal behavior; maternal parity; infant survival

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