Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dad's Absence Affects Neurobiology of Offspring


Scientists at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) have discovered that an absent father during critical growth periods can lead to social and behavioral impairments in adults. This is the first study of its kind to correlate paternal deprivation and social attributes with physical changes in the brain.
"Although we used mice, the findings are extremely relevant to humans," says senior author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a researcher of the Mental Illness and Addiction Axis at the RI-MUHC and an associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. "We used California mice which, like in some human populations, are monogamous and raise their offspring together."
Researchers were able to control the environment in which the mice were raised, including the factors among the different groups.  As a result, mice studies may be clearer than human studies claims Francis Bambico, a former student of Dr. Gobbi at McGill and now a post-doc at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

Researchers compared the social behaviour and brain structure of mice in different groups; those raised with both parents and those raised by their mothers. Findings show that mice raised by single mothers experienced abnormal social interactions and were more aggressive than those raised with both parents present. In addition, these findings were more prevalent among female mice.  Furthermore, females also experienced an increased sensitivity to amphetamine.
"The behavioral deficits we observed are consistent with human studies of children raised without a father," says Dr. Gobbi, who is also a psychiatrist at the MUHC. "These children have been shown to have an increased risk for deviant behavior and in particular, girls have been shown to be at risk for substance abuse. This suggests that these mice are a good model for understanding how these effects arise in humans."
Further studies may uncover a clearer reasoning for such findings.  Is it merely the presence of a male role model?  Could it be that two parents, regardless of gender, have more influence than one?  Could male mice be more sensitive to amphetamine if raised by fathers alone?  Many questions remain for future studies to uncover, however this research demonstrates that the role of the father and/or the presence of both parents during critical stages of growth appear to be relatively important in children's mental health development. 

Dads: How Important Are They? New Research Highlights Value of Fathers in Both Neurobiology and Behavior of Offspring

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