A potential role for thalamocingulate circuitry in human maternal behavior

Jeffrey P. Lorberbaum, John D. Newman, Amy R. Horwitz, Judy R. Dubno, R. Bruce Lydiard, Mark B. Hamner, Daryl E. Bohning, Mark S. George

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

266 Scopus citations


Background: Little is known about the regional brain basis of human maternal behavior. To understand this better, we have been examining brain activity in mothers listening to infant cries. Methods: We measured functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging brain activity in healthy, breastfeeding first-time mothers with young infants while they listened to infant cries, white noise control sounds, and a rest condition. Based on the thalamocingulate theory of maternal behavior and pilot work, we hypothesized that the cingulate, medial thalamus, medial prefrontal cortex, and right orbitofrontal cortex would display more activity with infant cries than with white noise (comparison 1) and would uniquely activate with the cries, meaning that these regions would display activity with cry minus rest but not with white noise minus rest (comparison 2). Results: In hypothesized regions, the group displayed more activity in the medial thalamus, medial prefrontal and right orbitofrontal cortices with both comparisons. The anterior and posterior cingulate cortex displayed more activity only with comparison 1. In non-hypothesized brain regions, several other structures thought important in rodent maternal behavior displayed activity with both comparisons including the midbrain, hypothalamus, dorsal and ventral striatum, and vicinity of the lateral septal region. Conclusions: Our results partially support our hypotheses and are generally consistent with neuroanatomical studies of rodent maternal behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-445
Number of pages15
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 15 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Auditory perception
  • Brain imaging
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Human
  • Infant crying
  • Maternal behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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