The Impact of Maternal Caregiving on Infant Pain and Brain Development

A poster presentation given this week at the American Society for Neuroscience meeting reports that in a study of rats, a mother’s attention and care can both ameliorate infant pain as well as impact early brain development by altering gene activity in a part of the brain involved in emotions. The research was undertaken by neurobiologists from NYU Langone Medical Center, and is believed to be the first to show the short-term effects of maternal caregiving in a distressed infant pup’s brain. The findings may also shed light into the long-term consequences of differences in how mammals, including humans, are nurtured from birth.

The study analyzed the genes present and active in rat infants experiencing pain and found that the number of these was reduced when the mothers were present. The authors report that the mother comforting her infant in pain does not just elicit a behavioral response, but that the comforting itself modifies—for better or worse—critical neural circuitry during early brain development. The findings may assist in the development of nonpharmacological, less dangerous treatment strategies for human infant pain as well.

Read more about the research here.

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