A new study has shown the impact of childhood experiences of the mother on the brain function of her children.
The research by scientists from Rush University Medical Center and Tufts University School of Medicine using mice indicates that a child's memory and the severity of learning disorders may be affected by what his or her mother did when she was a child.
The study will be published in the February 4th issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
Neuroscience researchers studied the brain function of pre-adolescent mice that have a genetically created defect in memory. When these young mice were given an enriched environment, which is exposure to stimulatory objects, enhanced social interaction and voluntary exercise for two weeks, the memory defect, caused by inhibiting the formation of Ras-GRF1 and Ras-GRF2 proteins, was reversed.
After a few months, the same mice were fertilized and they gave birth to offspring that had the same genetic mutation. However, the offspring had no indications of the memory defect even though the offspring were never exposed to an enriched environment like their mothers.
Previous research in mouse models has shown that early exposure to an enriched environment while pregnant can also positively affect offspring.
"What is so unique about this study is that we provided an enriched environment during pre-adolescence, months before the mice became pregnant, yet the beneficial effect reached into the next generation," said Dean Hartley, PhD, neuroscience researcher at Rush University Medical Center and study co-investigator.
"The offspring had improved memory even without an enriched environment.
"We were able to demonstrate that environmental enrichment during youth has dramatic additional powers. It can enhance the memory in future offspring of enriched juvenile mice," said Hartley.
To prove that that improved memory of the offspring was not the result of better nurturing by mothers who were enriched when they were young, a number of offspring were raised by non-enriched foster mothers. Even in the offspring raised by non-enriched mothers, they still maintained an improved memory.