December 6, 2023

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Baby Crying Elicits Oxytocin Release in Mothers

Baby Crying Elicits Oxytocin Release in Mothers


Baby Crying Elicits Oxytocin Release in Mothers.

From a biological standpoint, maternal behaviors such as giving birth, breastfeeding, and caring for offspring are geared towards enhancing the survival prospects of their progeny to ensure the transmission of genetic material within a population.

Oxytocin, a crucial molecular signal for maternal behavior, is released from the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) in the hypothalamus in mammals and is associated with childbirth and lactation.

Furthermore, oxytocin plays a role in the brain in increasing the salience of social information.

In August 2021, a team led by Robert Froemke at New York University Grossman School of Medicine published a paper in the journal Nature [1].

They discovered that female mice who had never mated or given birth could perform the same nurturing tasks after observing maternal care behavior by another lactating female.

This observation led to the production of oxytocin in the brains of unmated female mice, shaping their maternal behavior at a biochemical level even before they had their own offspring.



This research has redefined the role of oxytocin in brain function and unveiled the neural mechanisms behind maternal learning.

On September 20, 2023, the team led by Robert Froemke once again published a paper in the journal Nature [2], revealing the neural circuitry that triggers oxytocin release in mothers in response to infant crying.

Baby Crying Elicits Oxytocin Release in Mothers


In humans, infant crying is a potent signal of infant distress, prompting most caregiving mothers to respond by releasing oxytocin, increasing hypothalamic activity, engaging in soothing behaviors, and occasionally expressing milk. However, the neural circuitry responsible for transmitting auditory information from infant distress signals to oxytocin neurons remains unclear.

To investigate the neural circuitry that links infant crying to oxytocin release in mothers, the Robert Froemke team recorded the neural activity of oxytocin neurons in mouse mothers when their offspring called for them. They found that these neurons responded to inputs from the posterior intralaminar thalamus region. This circuitry was discovered to control oxytocin release and infant retrieval, providing a mechanism for integrating sensory cues from offspring into the maternal hormone network to facilitate efficient caregiving.

These findings shed light on how neural circuits process sensory cues from offspring to activate the release of neuroregulatory substances like oxytocin, altering maternal behavior.


It is worth noting that in July 2022, researchers from the RIKEN Institute in Japan published a paper in the Neuron subjournal of Cell [3].

They demonstrated that male mice also undergo neuroendocrine changes when becoming fathers, with neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVH) responsible for oxytocin secretion playing a role in activating paternal instincts in new fathers.

This discovery underscores the profound impact of oxytocin as a single factor on fathers and highlights the plasticity of hypothalamic neural circuits.

Baby Crying Elicits Oxytocin Release in Mothers




Baby Crying Elicits Oxytocin Release in Mothers

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Important Note: The information provided is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice.