A new study out of U.C. Irvine by neurologist Dr. Tallie Z. Baram has found that caressing and other sensory input triggers activity in a baby’s developing brain that improves cognitive function and builds resilience to stress.
In a study published earlier this year in The Journal of Neuroscience, Baram and colleagues identified how sensory stimuli from maternal care can modify genes that control a key messenger of stress called corticotropin-releasing hormone.
Dr. Baram’s earlier work has shown that excessive amounts of CRH in the brain’s primary learning and memory center led to the disintegration of dendritic spines, branchlike structures on neurons. Dendritic spines facilitate the sending and receiving of messages among brain cells and the collection and storage of memories.
“Communication among brain cells is the foundation of cognitive processes such as learning and memory,” says Baram, the Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences. “In several brain disorders where learning and similar thought processes are abnormal, dendritic spines have been found to be reduced in density or poorly developed.
“Because an infant’s brain is still building connections in these communication zones, large blasts or long-term amounts of stress can permanently limit full development, increasing the risk of anxiety, depression and dementia later in life.”
Essentially, Dr. Baram and her colleagues’ work stands for the proposition that a human brain is fundamentally influenced by the environment early in life, especially by maternal care.
See story at Psychorg.com: