Pregnancy and childbirth are extraordinary experiences that profoundly change a mother’s life. But did you know that the stress a woman faces during her adolescent years can have unexpected effects on her behavior after becoming a mother? It is a fascinating topic that has captured the attention of scientists. New research led by Kyohei Kin et al. delves into this phenomenon and studies the influence of adolescent psychosocial stress, particularly social isolation, on postpartum social behavior in mice.
In their recent Nature Communications paper entitled, “Adolescent stress impairs postpartum social behavior via anterior insula-prelimbic pathway in mice”, Kyohei Kin et al. directed their attention to a specific region of the brain known as the prelimbic cortex (PrL). Their aim was to investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie the behavioral changes observed in response to adolescent psychosocial stress and its impact on postpartum social behavior. By focusing on the PrL, a brain region that plays a crucial role in social behavior and regulates stress responses, they sought to unravel the intricate workings of this region and its role in shaping behavior during this critical period.
To better understand the neural mechanisms driving postpartum social behavior, they employed cutting-edge techniques, including optogenetics and in vivo calcium imaging using the Inscopix nVoke™ miniscope. The findings of their study were truly fascinating. Kin et al. discovered that social isolation in late adolescence (SILA), when combined with pregnancy and delivery, led to a hypofunction of the anterior insula (AI)-PrL pathway. The AI-PrL pathway, or the connection between the AI and the PrL, is a crucial neural pathway involved in social behavior and the regulation of stress responses. The disruption in (AI)-PrL pathway altered the activity patterns in the PrL, resulting in behavioral changes specifically related to social novelty recognition during the postpartum period.
The implications of these findings are significant. The ability to recognize and interpret social cues is essential for mothers to ensure their own safety and that of their offspring. However, the hypofunction of the AI-PrL pathway impaired this ability, hindering mothers’ recognition of social cues during socially novel situations. Interestingly, the study identified a specific group of neurons called stable neurons in the PrL that were influenced by the AI-PrL pathway and played a role in these behavioral changes. Furthermore, they shed light on the involvement of glucocorticoid receptor (GR) signaling in the AI-PrL pathway. By selectively knocking out the GR in the AI-PrL pathway, they observed a restoration of neuronal activity changes in the PrL of stressed dams. These findings suggest that sustained elevation of corticosterone, a stress hormone, during the postpartum period plays a significant role in the observed social behavioral changes.
This study conducted by Kin et al. highlights how the Inscopix nVoke miniscope helps further our understanding of the complexities of the maternal brain, and how adolescent stress, pregnancy, and delivery collectively impact postpartum social behavior. By uncovering the intricate neural mechanisms underlying these behavioral changes, this research opens new avenues for exploring interventions and potential treatments for individuals facing postpartum challenges.
Yasaman Farshchi is our Inscopix Associate Product Manager with an MBA and MSc in Biomedical Engineering. With a passion for innovation, Yasaman is committed to delivering exceptional customer experience through product development and cross-functional team collaboration.