Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University
Benjamin C Nephew

Assistant Professor

Maternal Behavior Disorders
Section of Neuroscience and Reproductive Biology

Campus Phone:


  • BS - Hobart College - 1998
  • PhD - Tufts University - 2003
  1. Carini, L.M., Nephew, B.C. 2013. Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents. 
    Journal of Visualized Experiments. Accepted.

  2. Murgatroyd, C.A., Nephew, B.C. 2013. Effects of early life social stress on maternal behavior and neuroendocrinology. 
    Psychoneuroendocrinology. 38 219-228.

  3. Nephew, B.C., Caffrey, M.K., FelixOrtiz, A.C. Febo, MA. 2012. Prior adult cocaine sensitization increases maternal 
    behavior and alters neural activity in virgin rats. Brain Sciences2 667-683.

  4. Coverdill, A.J., McCarthy, M., Bridges, R.S., Nephew, B.C. 2012. Effects of Chronic Central AVP on Maternal Behavior in 
    Chronically Stressed Rat Dams. Brain Sciences. 2 589-604.

  5. Nephew, B.C., Bridges, R.S. 2011. Effects of chronic social stress during lactation on maternal behavior and growth. 
    Stress. 14(6) 677684.

  6. Nephew, B.C., Febo, M. 2010. Effect of cocaine sensitization prior to pregnancy on maternal care and aggression in the 
    rat. Psychopharmacology. 209 127135.

  7. Nephew, B.C., Byrnes, E.M., Bridges, R.S. 2010. Vasopressin mediates enhanced offspring protection in multiparous rats. 
    Neuropharmacology. 58(1) 102106.

  8. Caffrey, M.K., Nephew, B.C., Febo, M. 2010. Central vasopressin V1a receptors modulate neural processing in mothers 
    facing intruder threat to pups. Neuropharmacology. 58(1) 107116.

  9. Nephew, B.C., Ferris, C.F., FelixOrtiz, A.C., Caffrey, M.K., Febo, M. 2009. BOLD signal responses in corticolimbic 
    ‘emotions’ circuitry of lactating rats facing intruder threat to pups. European Journal of Neuroscience. 30(5) 93445.

  10. Nephew, B.C., Bridges, R.S., Lovelock, D.F., Byrnes, E.M. 2009. Enhanced maternal aggression and associated changes in 
    neuropeptide gene expression in reproductively experienced rats. Behavioral Neuroscience. 123(5) 949957.

  11. Nephew, B.C., Bridges, R.S. 2008. Central actions of arginine vasopressin and a V1a receptor antagonist on maternal 
    aggression, maternal behavior, and grooming in lactating rats. Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior. 91(1) 7783.

  12. Nephew, B.C. Bridges. R.S. 2008. Arginine vasopressin V1a receptor antagonist impairs maternal memory in rats. 
    Physiology and Behavior. 95(12) 182186.

  13. Nephew, B.C. Bridges. R.S. 2008. The progesterone receptor and parental behavior in juvenile rats. Developmental 
    Psychobiology. 50(6) 535541.

  14. Nephew, B.C., Amico, J., Cai, H.M., Walker, A.M., Scanlan, V.F., Bridges, R.S. 2007. Central administration of the prolactin
    3 receptor antagonist, S179DPRL, disrupts parturition in rats. Reproduction. 134 155–160.

  15. Dickens, M.J., Nephew, B.C., Romero, L.M. 2006. Captive European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) In breeding condition
    show an increased cardiovascular response to intruders. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 79, 937–943.

General Research Interests

My research is focused on developing a rodent model for stress-induced postpartum maternal behavioral disorders. This model will be used to investigate novel treatments for disorders that disrupt maternal behavior, such as depression and anxiety.  Postpartum behavioral disorders in humans can have negative effects on the health of both mother and offspring, but little is known about the development of these disorders.  Although chronic stress is a known risk factor for depression, and depression is frequently associated with impaired maternal behavior, it is unknown how chronic stress during lactation affects maternal behavior.  My current studies focus specifically on how chronic social stress, an ethologically relevant stressor, impacts maternal behavior.  I use behavioral observation, physiological monitoring, molecular genetics, neuroendocrine manipulation, and functional MRI to investigate this question.  Recent investigations indicate that the neurohormones arginine vasopressin (AVP), oxytocin (OXT), and corticosteroid releasing factor (CRH) are involved in the modulation of maternal behavior in lactating rats.  AVP, OXT, and/or CRH may also be significant factors in the physiological and behavioral effects of chronic stress.  It is likely that that AVP, OXT, and/or CRH are involved in the development of chronic stress-induced behavioral, endocrine, and physiological changes in maternal females. 

Selected Research Projects

  1. "Central Vasopressin and Maternal Behavior.”  The main objectives for this NIH funded project are to develop a rodent model for social stress-induced postpartum behavioral disorders and explore the potential therapeutic value of manipulating the central vasopressin and/or oxytocin pathways. This project involves a collaboration with Dr. Christopher Murgatroyd at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry on the the use of chronic social stress as a model for early life stress on the offspring of stressed dams.  These studies investigate epigenetic mechanisms for the effects of chronic social stress on offspring physiology, endocrinology, and behavior.  A second collaboration with Dr. Eric Nestler at the Mount Sinai Medical focuses on neural indicators of exposure to chronic stress (CREB) and resilience to the adverse effects of chronic stress (ΔFosB) in stressed dams and their offspring
  2. I also collaborate with Dr. Marcelo Febo at Northeastern University in a NIH funded investigation of the long term behavioral, physiological, and neural effects of a history of adult cocaine use on subsequent maternal behavior using a rodent model.

Major Specialized Equipment

  • Gamma counter
  • Cryostats
  • Microscopes
  • Behavioral Apparatus
  • 7 Tesla small animal MRI magnet.