Dorsal raphe serotonin neurotransmission is required for the expression of nursing behavior and for pup survival

A. Muzerelle, M. Soiza-Reilly, C. Hainer, P.L. Ruet, K.P. Lesch, M. Bader, N. Alenina*, S. Scotto-Lomassese*, P. Gaspar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Proper maternal care is an essential factor of reproductive success in mammals, involving a repertoire of behaviors oriented toward the feeding and care of the offspring. Among the neurotransmitters involved in the initiation of these behaviors, serotonin (5-HT) seems to play an important role. Here we compared pup-oriented maternal behaviors in mice with constitutive 5-HT depletion, the tryptophan hydroxylase 2-knock-out (Tph2-KO) and the Pet1-KO mice. We report that the only common pup-oriented defect in these 2 hyposerotoninergic models is a defective nursing in parturient mice and altered nursing-like (crouching) behavior in virgin mice, while pup retrieval defects are only present in Tph2-KO. Despite a normal mammary gland development and milk production, the defect in appropriate nursing is responsible for severe growth retardation and early lethality of pups born to hyposerotonergic dams. This nursing defect is due to acute rather constitutive 5-HT depletion, as it is reproduced by adult knockdown of Tph2 in the dorsal raphe nucleus in mothers with a prior normal maternal experience. We conclude that 5-HT innervation from the dorsal raphe is required for both the initiation and maintenance of a normal nursing behavior. Our findings may be related to observations of reduced maternal/infant interactions in human depression.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6004
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2021


  • 5-HT
  • MICE


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