Article

Rodent Model of Infant Attachment Learning and Stress

Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, New York University School of Medicine, Orangeburg, NY 10962, USA.
Developmental Psychobiology (Impact Factor: 3.16). 11/2010; 52(7):651-60. DOI: 10.1002/dev.20482
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Here we review the neurobiology of infant odor learning in rats, and discuss the unique role of the stress hormone corticosterone (CORT) in the learning necessary for the developing rat. During the first 9 postnatal (PN) days, infants readily learn odor preferences, while aversion and fear learning are attenuated. Such restricted learning may ensure that pups only approach their mother. This sensitive period of preference learning overlaps with the stress hyporesponsive period (SHRP, PN4-14) when pups have a reduced CORT response to most stressors. Neural underpinnings responsible for sensitive-period learning include increased activity within the olfactory bulb and piriform "olfactory" cortex due to heightened release of norepinephrine from the locus coeruleus. After PN10 and with the decline of the SHRP, stress-induced CORT release permits amygdala activation and facilitates learned odor aversions and fear. Remarkably, odor preference and attenuated fear learning can be reestablished in PN10-15 pups if the mother is present, an effect due to her ability to suppress pups' CORT and amygdala activity. Together, these data indicate that functional changes in infant learning are modified by a unique interaction between the developing CORT system, the amygdala, and maternal presence, providing a learning system that becomes more flexible as pups mature.

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