Considered the epitome of care, mothers go to unexpected lengths to protect their children from harm. This belief is so widely accepted that it reflects everywhere, from ancient folk tales to the newest cultural texts. However, it is only recently that scientists have found the responsible protein that compels a mother to risk their lives for the safety of their kids. Scientists at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) in Japan conducted experiments on mother mice and virgin mice. They found that the risk-taking behaviour of mothers was caused by a small part of their forebrain that contains a protein named as calcitonin receptor. Studying this behaviour can lead scientists to understand such behaviour in humans as well.
Kumi Kuroda, who led the study, said in a news release that the next step for the researchers will be to study the role of this special protein in non-human primates, “which should be more similar to what happens in humans." Primates are a diverse group of 200 species of social mammals including humans.
All mammals’ brains contain the hypothalamus, a small and central part of their brain, which handles the key life processes and regulates some hormones. Nurturing behaviour originates in a special area of the hypothalamus, Kurudo’s team had shown in previous research.
However, this special part of the brain has many different kinds of neurons. To understand which neurons contributed to parental behaviour, the researchers put infants on the dangerous ends of a platform. While virgin mice hesitated and did not retrieve the baby mice until it was safe, mother moms did not care about the risks and fetched the scattered baby mice instantly. The behaviour is visible in the video of the experiment.
Researchers found that the number of neurons influenced by this protein was higher in mothers after giving birth as compared to virgin females. After such neurons were silenced in virgin mice, they did not show parental behaviour even after giving birth to their own pups.