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Benjamin C Nephew

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. Nephew, B.C., Febo, M., Huang, W., Colon-Perez, L.M., Payne, L., Poirier, G.L., Greene, O., King, J.A. 2018. Early life social stress and resting state functional connectivity in postpartum rat anterior cingulate circuits. Journal of Affective Disorders.
  2. Nephew, B.C., Carini, L.M., Sallah, S., Cotino, C., Alyamani, R.A.S., Pittet, F., Bradburn, S., Murgatroyd, C. 2017. Intergenerational accumulation of impairments in maternal behavior following postnatal social stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology.
  3. Hicks-Nelson, A., Beamer, G., Gurel, K., Cooper, R., Nephew, B.C. 2017. Transgenerational social stress alters immune–behavior associations and the response to vaccination. Brain Sciences.
  4. Pittet, F., Babb, J.A., Carini, L., Nephew, B.C. 2017. Chronic social instability in adult female rats alters social behavior, maternal aggression and offspring development. Developmental Psychobiology.
  5. Kroll-Desrosiers, A.R., Nephew, B.C., Babb, J.A., Guilarte-Walker, Y., Moore Simas, T.A., Deligiannidis, K.M. 2017. Association of peripartum synthetic oxytocin administration and depressive and anxiety disorders within the first postpartum year. Depression and Anxiety.
  6. Nephew, B.C., Huang, W., Poirier, G.L., Payne, L., King, J.A. 2017. Altered neural connectivity in adult female rats exposed to early life social stress. Behavioural Brain Research.
  7. Murgatroyd, C.A., Hicks-Nelson, A., Fink, A., Beamer, G., Gurel, K., Elnady, F., Pittet, F., Nephew, B.C. 2016. Effects of chronic social stress and maternal intranasal oxytocin and vasopressin on offspring interferon-γ and behavior. Frontiers in Endocrinology.
  8. Murgatroyd, C.A., Taliefar, M., Bradburn, S., Carini, L.M., Babb, J.A., Nephew, B.C. 2015. Social stress during lactation, depressed maternal care, and neuropeptidergic gene expression. Behavioural Pharmacology.
  9. Babb, J.A., Deligiannidis, K.M., Murgatroyd, C.A., Nephew, B.C. 2015. Peripartum depression and anxiety as an integrative cross domain target for psychiatric preventative measures. Behavioural Brain Research.
  10. Murgatroyd, C.A., Peña, C.J., Podda, G., Nestler, E.J., Nephew, B.C. 2015. Early life social stress induced changes in depression and anxiety associated neural pathways which are correlated with impaired maternal care. Neuropeptides.
  11. Babb, J.A., Carini, L.M., Spears, S.L., Nephew, B.C. 2014. Transgenerational effects of social stress on social behavior, corticosterone, oxytocin, and prolactin in rats. Hormones and Behavior.
  12. Nephew, B., Murgatroyd, C. 2013. The role of maternal care in shaping CNS function. Neuropeptides.
  13. Carini, L.M., Murgatroyd, C.A., Nephew, B.C. 2013. Using chronic social stress to model postpartum depression in lactating rodents.. Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE.
  14. Carini, L.M., Nephew, B.C. 2013. Effects of early life social stress on endocrinology, maternal behavior, and lactation in rats. Hormones and Behavior.
  15. Murgatroyd, C.A., Nephew, B.C. 2013. Effects of early life social stress on maternal behavior and neuroendocrinology. Psychoneuroendocrinology.
  16. Nephew, B.C. 2013. What we can learn from second animal neuroscience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
  17. Nephew, B.C., Febo, M. 2012. Effects of cocaine on maternal behavior and neurochemistry. Current Neuropharmacology.
  18. Nephew, B.C., Caffrey, M.K., Felix-Ortiz, A.C., Febo, M. 2012. Cocaine sensitization increases kyphosis and modulates neural activity in adult nulliparous rats. Brain Sciences.
  19. Coverdill, A.J., McCarthy, M., Bridges, R.S., Nephew, B.C. 2012. Effects of chronic central arginine vasopressin (AVP) on maternal behavior in chronically stressed rat dams. Brain Sciences.
  20. Nephew, B.C., Bridges, R.S. 2011. Effects of chronic social stress during lactation on maternal behavior and growth in rats. Stress.

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.

Research and Clinical Interests

  • Surgical approaches include stereotaxic surgery and the implantation of subcutaneous osmotic minipumps for noninvasive drug delivery.
  • Lab techniques include radioimmunoassays for hormones and real time PCR for gene expression of neural peptides and receptors.
  • Behavioral assays include measurement of parental behavior, aggression, activity chambers, assessment of pain, and testing for reproductive behaviors.
  • I also plan on establishing an implantable physiological telemetry system to remotely monitor heart rate, body temperature, and activity in the home cages of experimental subjects.   Visit for details.

Research Interests by Area

Neuroscience and Reproductive Biology
  • Animal Models of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders

    Animal models of are frequently used to elucidate disease mechanisms and identify potential therapeutic targets. A large number of preclinical models of psychiatric disorders have been developed in rodents. Additionally, spontaneous clinical models of psychiatric disorders, such as separation anxiety and compulsive disorder, have been documented in dogs. With regard to neurological disorders, conditions such as stroke, can be induced in rodent models and are also observed clinically in companion animals. Information regarding genetic predisposition, sex-specificity, and age-related factors can also be assessed using these types of animal models. Learn more

  • Transgenerational Epigenetics

    Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance involves the transmission of traits from one generation to the next in the absence of underlying changes in primary DNA structure.  In this manner, the experience of the parent can induce genetic modifications in their future offspring and beyond. It has been hypothesized that such rapid inheritance may be adaptive as it essentially prepares future generations for environmental conditions as predicted by parental experience. The mechanisms underlying transgenerational epigenetic inheritance include processes that regulate gene expression, including DNA methylation and expression of small, non-coding RNAs. Our understanding of how these epigenetic modifications are transmitted from one generation to the next remains quite limited. Learn more.

  • Neurobiology of Maternal Behavior

    Appropriate coordination of the reproductive axis is critical for species propagation. In mammals, reproductive processes and associated behaviors are regulated by the central nervous system. Neural signals are critical for synchronizing the release of hormones in response to developmental, experiential, and environmental factors. In addition, the brain controls the expression of behaviors necessary for mating and parenting. Dysregulation of the reproductive axis can have significant consequences for the individual, their offspring, and the species. Learn more.

Reproductive Biology and Neuroscience
  • Postpartum Mood Disorders and Autism

Major Specialized Equipment

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