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What Moms Learned May Be Passed to Offspring

Mouse study concludes rich environmental memories can affect learning in children

THURSDAY, Feb. 5 (HealthDay News) -- The things mothers did as children may affect their children's memory and the severity of learning disorders, according to U.S. researchers who studied the brain function of pre-adolescent mice with a genetically engineered memory deficit.

This memory deficit was reversed when the mice were given two weeks of exposure to an enriched environment that included stimulatory objects, enhanced social interaction and voluntary exercise. These mice later gave birth to offspring with the same genetic mutation. But the offspring showed no signs of memory problems even though they were never placed in an enriched environment.

The findings were published in the Feb. 4 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"What is so unique about this study is that we provided an enriched environment during pre-adolescence, months before the mice became pregnant, yet the beneficial effect reached into the next generation. The offspring had improved memory even without an enriched environment," study co-investigator Dean Hartley, a neuroscience researcher at Rush University Medical Center, said in a university news release.

"We were able to demonstrate that environmental enrichment during youth has dramatic additional powers. It can enhance the memory in future offspring of enriched juvenile mice," Hartley said.

Previous research found that placing young, normal and memory-deficient mice in an enriched environment for a fairly short period of time unlocks an otherwise dormant biochemical and control mechanism that boosts a cellular process in nerve cells called long-term potentiation (LTP), which is believed to be involved in learning and memory.

"This is the first study to demonstrate an inheritance of a change in a signaling pathway that promotes LTP and enhancement of memory formation, and that defects caused by a genetic mutation can be reversed by what the mother is exposed to during her youth," Hartley said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and memory.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Rush University Medical Center, news release, Feb. 3, 2009

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