Mother-Infant Interactions Influence Both Cognitive and Physical Development

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Marshall Ballroom East (Marriott Wardman Park)
Bruce McEwen, Rockefeller University, New York, NY
The brain is the central organ of stress and adaptation to stress because it perceives and determines what is threatening, as well as the behavioral and physiological responses to the stressor.  The adult, as well as developing brain, possess a remarkable ability to show structural and functional plasticity in response to stressful and other experiences, including neuronal replacement, dendritic remodeling, and synapse turnover.  This is particularly evident in the hippocampus.  The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, brain regions involved in anxiety and fear, mood, cognitive function and behavioral control, also show structural plasticity. Loss of resilience of this plasticity requires external intervention.  There are important sex differences in how the brain responds to stressors that are in urgent need of further exploration.  Furthermore, adverse early life experience, interacting with alleles of certain genes, and modulated by the mother or principle caregiver, produce lasting effects on brain and body via epigenetic mechanisms.   While prevention is most important, the plasticity of the brain gives hope for therapies that take into consideration brain-body interactions.   Policies of government and the private sector must work to reduce the impact of early life adversity by prevention and policies that use the capacity for brain plasticity to ameliorate the adverse effects. Acknowledgement:  National Scientific Council on the Developing Child