Healthy Living

Do You Have the "Mommy Gene?"

mother and baby
Image REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Some girls, as they grow up to become women long to experience the birth of their child and becoming a mother. Other girls grow up to become women and want nothing to do with the idea of having children. New research suggests the dire want, or lack thereof, to become a mother may be due to the "mommy gene."

According to researchers from Rockefeller University in New York, there may be a single gene responsible for motivating mothers to protect, feed and raise their offspring.

In previous studies, during the 1970's, scientists discovered that the preoptic area of the brain is involved with particular behaviors in mice such as aggression, sexual receptivity and maternal care.

Aba Ribeiro, lead study author, and colleagues suppressed ER alpha levels in the preoptic region of the brain and observed how female mice reacted with the reduced levels. Results demonstrated that when ER alpha levels were lowered the mice spent less time licking, nurturing and caring for their offspring. It was observed that the level of aggression was not affected.

Additionally, when levels of ER alpha were reduced the female mice experienced a decrease in sexual behavior. "The novelty of this study is that it shows that silencing this gene in one specific area of the brain abolishes many aspects of maternal behavior," Ribeiro said.

"Mice and women express different versions of these receptors, and it is hypothesized that different versions are associated with different maternal capacities," Ribeiro explained. "There is also evidence from mice, that there are modifications that occur in young pups that determine what type of mother a female pup will become."

Ribeiro hopes the findings will be able to uncover genetic links to good parenting in human beings.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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