The absence of a mother in the first few years of life is linked to anxiety and depression as adults
There deprivation of maternal care in the first days of life it increases the likelihood that the offspring will have behavioral problems which refer to psychiatric disorders in adulthood. The conclusion comes from experiments performed on rats at the Federal University of São Paulo, which allowed to understand neural and hormonal mechanisms involved in the development of behaviors relevant to the study of anxiety and depression, paving the way for new treatments.
The animals, forcibly separated from their mothers, were analyzed for 24 hours straight, when they were only three days old. Later, in adulthood, the rodents showed a loss of pleasure engaging in enjoyable activities, one of the main indicators of depression. Consuming sucrose, for example, is something that gives mice a lot of pleasure. Those who are not motivated to eat sugar are considered depressed.
Even the puppies marked by the absence of the mother have become “anxious” adults. In this case, the signs observed were difficulties in acting in new environments, leading them to a constant state of alert.
During the motherless period, the baby rat did not breastfeed or lick the genital region, which is a form of maternal affection. This is enough for the adrenal gland, located above the kidneys, to release large quantities of the hormone corticosterone, corresponding in rodents to human cortisol, which is associated with stress.
By studying the brains of the animals, the team found that rats subjected to the stress of maternal deprivation on the third day of life had lower production of neuropeptide Y compared to the control group, consisting of animals that had not suffered maternal neglect. Neuropeptide Y is one of the chemicals responsible for communication between neurons.
In addition to contributing to the improvement of medical care for the mental disorders, maternal deprivation studies also seek to draw attention to the social aspects involved in the development of children in the first years of life. The importance of the mother is not limited to the act of feeding the baby. “Creating secure bonds, giving affection and stimulating the child’s perception with play and affection are also crucial for her education”, explain the scientists.