The researchers found that when paternal mice interact with their newborn babies, new brain cells develop in the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain responsible for sense of smell, and in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory.
Weeks after the fathers are separated from their babies they still demonstrate that bond and are able to distinguish their offspring from unrelated mice.
If fathers are prevented from physical interactions with their babies, no new neurons or memories are formed and they cannot recognize their offspring.
Previous research has shown that adult humans also have the capacity to generate new brain cells in the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus and that human fathers exhibit more affection and attachment and fewer ignoring behaviours toward children whose smell they can identify.
"What we have found has implications for long-term mental health. Our work shows that social interactions foster healthy brains and healthy brains foster positive social interactions, demonstrating a positive feedback loop. Our findings support the idea that physical interactions between fathers and their offspring may be a critical component for developing healthy relationships and a healthy society," said neuroscientist Samuel Weiss, director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Faculty of Medicine.
The study is published on-line this week in the prestigious international journal, Nature Neuroscience.