Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 375, Issue 1, pp 69–83 | Cite as

Endogenous opioid signalling in the brain during pregnancy and lactation

  • Paula J. BruntonEmail author


During pregnancy, the regulation of several neuroendocrine systems is altered to support the pregnancy and facilitate the transition to motherhood. These adaptations are organised by the mother’s brain and include those that serve to optimise foetal growth, protect the foetus(es) from adverse prenatal programming by maternal stress, facilitate timely parturition and ensure the offspring are nourished and cared for after birth. Although pregnancy hormones are important in inducing and maintaining many of these adaptations, their effects are often mediated via interactions with neuropeptide systems in the brain. In particular, endogenous opioids in the maternal brain play key roles in altered regulation of the stress axis, the oxytocin system, the prolactin system and the neural circuits controlling maternal behaviour. Together, these adaptations maximise the likelihood of a successful pregnancy outcome.


Enkephalin HPA axis Oxytocin Prolactin Maternal behaviour 



The research performed in the laboratory of PJB described here was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Discovery Brain SciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Zhejiang University–University of Edinburgh InstituteHainingPeople’s Republic of China

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