Female behaviour plays a critical role in controlling murine pregnancy block

Stuart D Becker, Jane L Hurst

Abstract

Exposure of recently mated female rodents to unfamiliar male scents during daily prolactin surges results in pregnancy failure (the ‘Bruce effect’). Control of nasal contact with male scents during these narrow windows of sensitivity could allow females to maintain or terminate pregnancy, but female behavioural changes specifically during this critical period have not been investigated. We examined the approach or avoidance of familiar stud strain and unfamiliar male scents by recently mated female mice. Females that maintained pregnancy avoided both unfamiliar and familiar male scent during critical periods of susceptibility for the Bruce effect. By contrast, females that did not maintain pregnancy showed a sharp rise in the time spent with unfamiliar male scent during this critical period. Manipulation of the social status of unfamiliar and stud strain scent donors did not affect the likelihood of pregnancy block, although females spent more time with dominant male scents across all time periods. The ability to control the Bruce effect through behaviour during brief sensitivity just before dusk, when females are likely to be in nest sites, provides a mechanism by which females may adjust their reproductive investment according to nest site social stability and likelihood of offspring survival.

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Footnotes

    • Received December 2, 2008.
    • Accepted January 7, 2009.
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