Methods in the Analysis of Maternal Behavior in the Rodent

Francesca Capone1, Luca Tommaso Bonsignore1, Francesca Cirulli1

1 Istitituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Toxicology
Unit Number:  Unit 13.9
DOI:  10.1002/0471140856.tx1309s26
Online Posting Date:  December, 2005
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Abstract

The aim of this unit is to provide a set of fundamental protocols to assess maternal behavior in rats and mice. Parental behavior in rodents is characterized by a rather complex set of behavioral items, which are described in great detail. A special emphasis has been placed on listing the many intervening variables that can bias the correct assessment of maternal behavior and the modifications to that behavior resulting from exposure to drugs or toxic compounds. Because changes in maternal behavior can be very subtle, the accuracy of the protocols can enhance the likelihood of detecting minor differences in behavior resulting from the experimental procedures. In addition, some suggestions are given on the most appropriate methods of data collection and their statistical analysis.

Keywords: Maternal behavior; Rodents; Behavioral phenotypes

     
 
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Table of Contents

  • Strategic Planning
  • Basic Protocol 1: Assessment of Rat Maternal Behavior in the Home Cage Under Undisturbed Conditions
  • Alternate Protocol 1: Assessment of Mouse Maternal Behavior in the Home Cage Under Undisturbed Conditions
  • Basic Protocol 2: Assessment of Maternal Behavior in the Home Cage Following Separation of Mother and Infants
  • Basic Protocol 3: Assessment of Maternal Behavior: The Retrieval Test
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
     
 
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Materials

Basic Protocol 1: Assessment of Rat Maternal Behavior in the Home Cage Under Undisturbed Conditions

  Materials
  • Dams (female rats), each with a litter of 1 to 13 pups
  • Clear Plexiglas home cages (42 × 27 × 14–cm), with metal tops and sawdust as bedding (cages should be equipped with transparent Plexiglas plastic tops to allow a clear view if the test is going to be videotaped)
  • Paper data sheets (see Fig. ) or equivalent software (e.g., The Observer from Noldus Information Technology)
  • Stopwatch
  • Video camera, videocassette recorder, and appropriate analysis and statistical software (optional)

Alternate Protocol 1: Assessment of Mouse Maternal Behavior in the Home Cage Under Undisturbed Conditions

  Materials
  • Lactating rodent subjects
  • Litter with 1 to 13 pups
  • Clear Plexiglas home cages (42 × 27 × 14–cm), with metal tops and sawdust as bedding (cages should be equipped with transparent Plexiglas plastic tops to allow a clear view if the test is going to be videotaped)
  • Incubator or heating pad set at 32°C
  • Paper data sheets (Fig. ; latencies to retrieve first and last pup should be added to the items listed in this figure) or equivalent software (e.g., The Observer from Noldus Information Technology)
  • Stopwatch
  • Video camera, videocassette recorder, and appropriate analysis and statistical software (optional)

Basic Protocol 2: Assessment of Maternal Behavior in the Home Cage Following Separation of Mother and Infants

  Materials
  • Lactating rodent subjects
  • Litter of 1‐ to 13‐day‐old pups, with 8 pups in each culled litter (see )
  • Incubator or heating pad set at 32°C
  • Paper data sheets (Fig. , with each block representing 30 sec) or equivalent software (e.g., The Observer from Noldus Information Technology)
  • Plexiglas cages (42 × 27 × 14‐cm), with metal tops and sawdust as bedding (cages should be equipped with transparent Plexiglas plastic top to allow a clear view if the test is going to be videotaped)
  • Stopwatch
  • Video camera, videocassette recorder, and appropriate analysis and statistical software (optional)
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Figures

Videos

Literature Cited

Literature Cited
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