Abstract # 192:

Scheduled for Monday, September 21, 2009 08:00 AM-08:10 AM: Session 18 (Del Mar Room) Oral Presentation


W. Saltzman1,2 and D. H. Abbott2
1University of California, Department of Biology, Riverside, CA, USA, 2National Primate Research Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI USA

Both acute and chronic stress can impair maternal behavior and increase rates of infant abuse in several species. The mechanisms mediating these effects are unknown, but manipulations of circulating corticosterone levels alter maternal behavior in rats, and cortisol concentrations have been found to correlate either positively or negatively with maternal behavior in primates. Therefore, we experimentally tested the hypothesis that both acute and chronic treatment with exogenous glucocorticoids would alter maternal behavior in a primate, the common marmoset. Multiparous, lactating females received daily injections of cortisol [n=7] or vehicle [n=7] for 8 days, and maternal behavior was characterized both under baseline conditions and during exposure to a noise stressor. Cortisol treatment elevated morning and afternoon plasma cortisol levels [ANOVA, p<0.001] and suppressed plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone levels [ANOVA, p=0.007]. Cortisol-treated females carried their infants less than control mothers under baseline conditions [Mann-Whitney U test, p=0.025], but showed few differences from control mothers in noise-stressor tests, both several hours after the first cortisol or vehicle treatment and after one week of treatment. Aggression towards infants was infrequent and mild, and did not differ between groups. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that cortisol elevations can alter maternal behavior in primates and indicate, specifically, that chronically elevated cortisol can inhibit some aspects of maternal behavior in experienced mothers. (Supported by NIH grant MH075973.)