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The neurobiology of fatherhood: neuroplasticity in the paternal and offspring brain
With the changing social attitudes, growing number of women in the work force, and new family structures, most children in the 21st century are growing up with some form of father involvement and coparental care, yet the neurobiology of fatherhood and the impact of paternal care on the behavioural and brain development of his offspring is still among the least researched topics in neuroscience. Such emphasis on mothering stands in contrast to the fact that father absence has been repeatedly identified as a risk factor for conduct disorders, delinquency, and violence. The aims of this proposal are to i) identify changes in brain activation patterns associated with fathering in a bi-parental animal model Octodon degus on the metabolic and cellular level; ii) correlate these brain functional changes to changes in socio-emotional and cognitive behaviour; iii) assess the sex-specific impact of paternal care (or the lack of) on the offspring's brain structure and function; and iv) test the hypothesis that paternal deprivation results in epigenetic reprogramming of genes encoding dopaminergic receptors; and thereby v) leads to intergenerational changes in parental behaviour in male and female offspring. By combining several state-of the-art methodologies, including brain imaging (2FDG, cellular imaging), neuromorphological, epigenetic, and behavioral analyses we will characterize the plasticity of paternal brain and behaviour and the impact of paternal care on the development of his offspring´s brain and behavior.
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