Response Paper for Champagne et al. (2008)

Date: Jan 11, 2019

Behavioral Patterns

Nurture is believed to have a strong impact on individual’s nature. Behavior patterns and negotiations experienced at the beginning of the lifetime determine a person’s nervous system plasticity and other characteristics. However, the exact mechanisms why and how it happens to be so are still understudied. This is the response paper of Champagne et al. (2008) that provides new insights into the challenging field of neuroscience.

The authors aimed to reveal anatomic substrates of behavioral patterns and to search for correlations between these morphological findings and psychological patterns (responsiveness to various stress factors). Moreover, they study evidence of connections between parent-child interactions in infancy and lifespan cognitive features. It should be noted, however, that these proposals are not new. The authors themselves point out to other research groups that have shown a substantial progress in the field of neurology. For example, as it had been reported by Meaney (2001), maternal attitude to her offspring determines cognitive and emotional reactions to stress in adulthood. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is a network of interactions and influences within the endocrine organs to respond to stress and to regulate body functions like digestion or immune system. Thus, some have already described data supporting differences in the modes of adult reactions between those who enjoyed pup licking and grooming in infancy and those who were depleted (Weaver et al., 2004). In this way, maternal care has been proved to influence an individual’s ongoing. In this particular study, the investigators followed other authorities to track down connections between care in infancy and stress reactions during lifespan, but Champagne et al. (2008) made an attempt to search for morphological substrates of this phenomenon. This was done by the means of careful study of dendrite associations and glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptors levels in the hippocampus. Furthermore, the scientific team performed physiological experiments: long-term potentiations were influenced by corticosterone exposure, which suggests accuracy of the whole study. This exploration is of vital importance because of its potential practical applications. Parents, health-care workers, pedagogues, educators as well as all interested may benefit from the evidence of early upbringing effects on later life.

Observations of Rats

This study was carried on a large number of observations of rats. Each mother had been observed five times a day each watching lasting sixty minutes. By the end of the study, there had been more than 600 observations per mother. This allowed the authors to make reliable conclusions concerning mother’s behavioral patterns. Indeed, five groups of mothers have been identified: licking and grooming, arched-back nursing, flat-back nursing, passive nursing, and without maternal contact. Their offsprings who were followed up for two to three months more composed the study subject. The rats were decapitated, and tissue material studied. The studies were as following:

  • Morphological exploring:
  1. quantitative morphological analysis (Golgi–Cox method) – dendrites of pyramidal cells of the brains studied microscopically
  2. western blot analysis - immunoreactive labeling to visualize receptor density
  • Physiological studies:
  1. electrophysiology analysis - assessment of long-term potentiation regarding corticosteroid effects
  2. contextual fear conditioning – memory test on alive rats to reveal hippocampus representation context

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Findings of the Current Study

It must be noted that the authors approached a logical scheme to explore the topic. The form determining the function and morphological changes was detected. Later, these findings were applied to electrophysiological data, and, finally, behavior and cognitive survey was performed. This hierarchy is consecutive and clear. All scientific data were accurately mathematically evaluated to reveal the significance of the results.

The main findings of the current study are:

  • Morphological findings
  1. dendritic branches are longer in those rats who experienced good maternal compliance in infancy suggesting neurons are capable to organize postnatally under certain conditions
  2. mineralo- and glucocorticoid receptors are in higher levels in those rats who were better treated by their mothers
  • Physiological findings
  1. high licking and grooming offsprings show significantly better electrophysiological cell characteristics as compared to those badly treated by their mothers. The patterns depend on corticosterone appliances
  2. those better treated by their mothers displayed better memory results in fear tests

Campagne at el. conclude, "maternal effects may modulate optimal cognitive functioning in environments varying in demand in later life, with offspring of high and low licking and glooming mothers showing enhanced learning under contexts of low and high stress, respectively". These results are based on statistically proved difference in morphological, synaptic, and cognitive variations in a stressful context depending on maternal fashion. These findings correlate well with imagination of an outbreak of postnatal pyramidal neuron development even keeping in mind that their migration had been complete before birth. The authors claim that the above-mentioned changes occur during maternal-infant interaction period, suggesting that they may be regulated by educative changes. This hypothesis seems to be rather persuasive, especially if investigation logical accuracy is taken into account.

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The experiment was thoroughly planned and carefully held, and it is hardly possible to suggest other explanations to the data obtained. The paper provides the society with important contributions related to the behavioral structure and cognitive functions.

Results obtained by Campagne at el. are, of course, far from direct clinical applications. Undoubtedly, similar studies need to be held on other animal models. For example, dogs are known to express challenging educative patterns. On the other hand, parallel or suchlike studies of humans would carry the best evidence of how maternal determinants in infancy influence adult behavior.

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