Physiological regulation of maternal behavior in heifers: roles of genital stimulation, intracerebral oxytocin release, and ovarian steroids.
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We tested the hypotheses that 1) epidural anesthesia at parturition would block both peripheral and central release of oxytocin and eliminate the development of maternal behavior in primiparous heifers and 2) estradiol priming, genital stimulation, and appropriate neonatal stimuli would induce maternal behavior in nulliparous heifers. In experiment 1, primiparous crossbred heifers (n = 13) with cannulas in the third cerebroventricle (IIIV) were assigned randomly to receive epidural treatments of saline (SAL; n = 6) or lidocaine HCl (EPI; n = 7) at the onset of labor induced between Days 270 and 280 of gestation. Epidural anesthesia blocked (P < 0.001) both central and peripheral release of oxytocin and markedly reduced (P < 0.05) or eliminated licking behaviors during a 3-h period following parturition as compared with SAL. Following approximately 1 wk of controlled daily suckling, during which calves were permitted access only to the inguinal region of their dams (three times daily for 10 min each time), a second maternal behavior test was performed. Although licking behavior remained markedly reduced (P < 0.001) in the EPI compared with the SAL groups, all heifers accepted their calf at the udder. In experiments 2-4, neither estradiol priming in ovariectomized heifers nor estradiol plus progesterone in intact heifers resulted in an induction of maternal behaviors following genital stimulation and presentation of a neonate wetted with amniotic fluid. Pelvic sensory deficits apparently block oxytocin release and disturb both short-latency and long-term maternal behaviors but do not result ultimately in rejection of the calf. Combinations of hormonal, sensory, olfactory, and visual cues observed previously to induce maternal behavior in nulliparous ewes do not appear adequate for induction of maternal behavior in nulliparous heifers.