In the fostering study, previously neglectful mothers did successfully raise some of the pups born to previously nurturing mothers, but these surviving pups showed lasting effects, including hyperactivity and low adult body weight. Some females neglected as youngsters were also poor mothers as adults, suggesting some aspects of neglect can be transmitted across generations.
The group also found evidence of genetic factors contributing to neglect. For example, virgin females that exhibited poor self-grooming and hyperactive behavior were at greater risk for becoming neglectful mothers.
To identify possible biological differences, the researchers analyzed brains of neglectful and nurturing mothers shortly after birth. In several brain regions - including some implicated in both maternal behaviors and reward responsiveness - they found higher levels of activity as well as signs of abnormal dopamine signaling in the neglectful mothers.
These patterns suggest that naturally occurring maternal neglect in these mice reflects disrupted reward-seeking behavior, Gammie says. In other words, these females may have the physical capability to take care of their pups, but may lack the proper motivation.
"It's been shown in a number of studies that parental care is a motivated, reward-related behavior," he says. "And it has been suggested by others that some aspects of child neglect in humans could result from a lack of reward of an offspring to the parent."
Though often overshadowed by more visible abuse cases, human child neglect may actually be a more widespread problem. A report published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on U.S. children (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5713a2.htm) found that, among infants less than a week old, nearly 70 percent of nonfatal mistreatment cases from 2005 to 2006 were
|Contact: Stephen Gammie|
University of Wisconsin-Madison