High oxytocin infants gain more mass with no additional maternal energetic costs in wild grey seals (Halichoerus grypus)

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Abstract

Maximising infant survival requires secure attachments and appropriate behaviours between parents and offspring. Oxytocin is vital for parent-offspring bonding and behaviour. It also modulates energetic balance and neural pathways regulating feeding. However, to date the connections between these two areas of the hormone’s functionality are poorly defined. We demonstrate that grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) mothers with high oxytocin levels produce pups with high oxytocin levels throughout lactation, and show for the first time a link between endogenous infant oxytocin levels and rates of mass gain prior to weaning. High oxytocin infants gained mass at a greater rate without additional energetic cost to their mothers. Increased mass gain in infants was not due to increased nursing, and there was no link between maternal mass loss rates and plasma oxytocin concentrations. Increased mass gain rates within high oxytocin infants may be due to changes in individual behaviour and energy expenditure or oxytocin impacting on tissue formation. Infancy is a crucial time for growth and development, and our findings connect the oxytocin driven mechanisms for parent-infant bonding with the energetics underlying parental care. Our study demonstrates that oxytocin release may connect optimal parental or social environments with direct physiological advantages for individual development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104423
Number of pages7
JournalPsychoneuroendocrinology
Volume110
Early online date27 Aug 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Keywords

  • Maternal bonding
  • Infant bonding
  • Infant development
  • Positive feedback loop
  • Mass gain
  • Parental investment

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