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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2014, Article ID 574159, 20 pages
Review Article

The Maternal Brain: An Organ with Peripartal Plasticity

1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Salzburger Landeskrankenhaus (SALK), Paracelsus Medical University, Müllner Hauptstrasse 48/Strubergasse 21, 5020 Salzburg, Austria
2Institute of Molecular Regenerative Medicine, Spinal Cord Injury and Tissue Regeneration Center Salzburg, Paracelsus Medical University, Strubergasse 21, 5020 Salzburg, Austria

Received 8 January 2014; Accepted 24 March 2014; Published 4 May 2014

Academic Editor: Aniko Korosi

Copyright © 2014 Katharina Maria Hillerer et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The time of pregnancy, birth, and lactation, is characterized by numerous specific alterations in several systems of the maternal body. Peripartum-associated changes in physiology and behavior, as well as their underlying molecular mechanisms, have been the focus of research since decades, but are still far from being entirely understood. Also, there is growing evidence that pregnancy and lactation are associated with a variety of alterations in neural plasticity, including adult neurogenesis, functional and structural synaptic plasticity, and dendritic remodeling in different brain regions. All of the mentioned changes are not only believed to be a prerequisite for the proper fetal and neonatal development, but moreover to be crucial for the physiological and mental health of the mother. The underlying mechanisms apparently need to be under tight control, since in cases of dysregulation, a certain percentage of women develop disorders like preeclampsia or postpartum mood and anxiety disorders during the course of pregnancy and lactation. This review describes common peripartum adaptations in physiology and behavior. Moreover, it concentrates on different forms of peripartum-associated plasticity including changes in neurogenesis and their possible underlying molecular mechanisms. Finally, consequences of malfunction in those systems are discussed.