What drives the social connection between offspring and caregivers during the first days of life? A Yale-led research group has found clues in specific neurons in the brains of neonatal mice associated with feeding.
The neurons, called Agrp, regulate the feeding behavior of adult mammals, but it was not clear what role they played in early development. To solve that mystery, the researchers conducted a series of experiments with 10-day mice. They isolated the newborn animals from the nest, temporarily lost them by nutrients. Separation from the caregiver quickly triggered the activity of the Agrp neurons and vocal protests from the mice. The researchers also observed that returning to the nest, rather than ingesting milk, suppressed the response.
Their results indicate that, during early development, before mammals can search for food on their own, the Agrp neurons respond to the stress of separation from the caregiver. They also describe a mechanism for infant care interaction and the onset of community bond development in all mammals.
The paper, led by professor of comparative medicine Marcelo Dietrich, is published in Cell.
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