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Measuring nurture: Study shows how 'good mothering' hardwires infant brain
Date:7/17/2014

By carefully watching nearly a hundred hours of video showing mother rats protecting, warming, and feeding their young pups, and then matching up what they saw to real-time electrical readings from the pups' brains, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have found that the mother's presence and social interactions her nurturing role directly molds the early neural activity and growth of her offsprings' brain.

Reporting in the July 21 edition of the journal Current Biology, the NYU Langone team showed that the mother's presence in the nest regulated and controlled electrical signaling in the infant pup's brain.

Although scientists have known for decades that maternal-infant bonding affects neural development, the NYU Langone team's latest findings are believed to be the first to show as it is happening how such natural, early maternal attachment behaviors, including nesting, nursing, and grooming of pups, impact key stages in postnatal brain development.

Researchers say the so-called slow-wave, neural signaling patterns seen during the initial phases of mammalian brain development between age 12 and 20 days in rats closely resembled the electrical patterns seen in humans for meditation and conscious and unconscious sleep-wake cycles, and during highly focused attention. These early stages are when permanent neural communication pathways are known to form in the infant brain, and when increasing numbers of nerve axons become sheathed, or myelinated, to speed neural signaling.

According to senior study investigator and neurobiologist Regina Sullivan, PhD, whose previous research in animals showed how maternal interactions influenced gene activity in the infant brain, the latest study offers an even more profound perspective on maternal caregiving.

"Our research shows how in mammals the mother's sensory stimulation helps sculpt and mold the infant's growing brain and helps define the role played by 'n
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Contact: David March
david.march@nyumc.org
212-404-3528
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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