The maternal brain is more flexible and responsive at rest: effective connectivity of the parental caregiving network in postpartum mothers

Edwina R. Orchard, Katharina Voigt, Sidhant Chopra, Tribikram Thapa, Phillip G.D. Ward, Gary F. Egan, Sharna D. Jamadar

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5 Citations (Scopus)


The field of neuroscience has largely overlooked the impact of motherhood on brain function outside the context of responses to infant stimuli. Here, we apply spectral dynamic causal modelling (spDCM) to resting-state fMRI data to investigate differences in brain function between a group of 40 first-time mothers at 1-year postpartum and 39 age- and education-matched women who have never been pregnant. Using spDCM, we investigate the directionality (top–down vs. bottom–up) and valence (inhibition vs excitation) of functional connections between six key left hemisphere brain regions implicated in motherhood: the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, parahippocampal gyrus, amygdala, and nucleus accumbens. We show a selective modulation of inhibitory pathways related to differences between (1) mothers and non-mothers, (2) the interactions between group and cognitive performance and (3) group and social cognition, and (4) differences related to maternal caregiving behaviour. Across analyses, we show consistent disinhibition between cognitive and affective regions suggesting more efficient, flexible, and responsive behaviour, subserving cognitive performance, social cognition, and maternal caregiving. Together our results support the interpretation of these key regions as constituting a parental caregiving network. The nucleus accumbens and the parahippocampal gyrus emerging as ‘hub’ regions of this network, highlighting the global importance of the affective limbic network for maternal caregiving, social cognition, and cognitive performance in the postpartum period.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4719
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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