Even Brief Maternal Deprivation Early in Life Alters Adult Brain Function And Cognition


Source: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science

Summary: According to a new animal model study, when a baby is taken from its mother for even a brief period early in life, this traumatic event significantly alters the future, adult function of the brain.


Rat and human brains have similar structure and connectivity, understanding what happens in the brain of a young rat that’s removed from its mother gives us important insight into how this type of early trauma perhaps comparable to the incarceration of a human mother affects the young human brain. The more we understand how the brain responds, the closer we come to being able to address and hopefully develop novel treatment strategies to reverse these neurological changes. Researchers from the IUPUI School of Science found that when a baby is taken from its mother for even a brief period early in life, this traumatic event significantly alters the future, adult function of the brain. These changes in the brain are similar to disturbances in brain structure and function that are found in people at risk for neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. The study findings were published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Alters Adult Brain Function And Cognition

Christopher Lapish, associate professor of psychology, and Sarine Janetsian-Fritz, former graduate student, IUPUI School of Science and colleagues conducted a study, “Maternal deprivation induces alterations in cognitive and cortical function in adulthood, ” published in Translational Psychiatry. Credit: School of Science at IUPUI

In the study, young rats were removed from their mothers for 24 hours when they were nine days old, which is a critical period of brain development. The resulting scans revealed that, unlike animals that were not separated from their mother during this crucial period, the separated rats exhibited significant behavioral, as well as biological and physiologicalbrain abnormalities in adulthood. In this study, the team found memory impairment, as well as less communication between brain regions, in the animals that had been removed from their mothers, among other neurological changes. These are all clues to how a traumatic event early in life could increase a person’s risk of receiving a schizophrenia diagnosis in the future.

Prof. Brian F. O’Donnell said, “Children exposed to early-life stress or deprivation are at higher risk for mental illness and addictions later in life, including schizophrenia.”


More Information: Sarine S. Janetsian-Fritz et al. Maternal deprivation induces alterations in cognitive and cortical function in adulthood, Translational Psychiatry (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41398-018-0119-5 


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