Neuroethics Publications

Early parental care is important for hippocampal maturation: Evidence from brain morphology in humans

Hengyi Rao, University of Pennsylvania; Sun Yat-Sen University
Laura Betancourt, University of Pennsylvania
Joan M. Giannetta, University of Pennsylvania; Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania
Nancy L. Brodsky, University of Pennsylvania; Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania
Marc Korczykowski, University of Pennsylvania
Brian B. Avants, University of Pennsylvania
James C. Gee, University of Pennsylvania
Jiongjiong Wang, University of Pennsylvania
Hallam Hurt, University of Pennsylvania; Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania
John A. Detre, University of Pennsylvania
Martha J. Farah, University of Pennsylvania

Document Type Journal Article

Postprint version.

Rao, H., et al., (2010). Early parental care is important for hippocampal maturation: Evidence from brain morphology in humans, NeuroImage. Vol. 49(1). p. 1144-1150.

doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.07.003

Abstract

The effects of early life experience on later brain structure and function have been studied extensively in animals, yet the relationship between childhood experience and normal brain development in humans remains largely unknown. Using a unique longitudinal data set including ecologically valid in-home measures of early experience during childhood (at age 4 and 8 years) and high-resolution structural brain imaging during adolescence (mean age 14 years), we examined the effects on later brain morphology of two dimensions of early experience: parental nurturance and environmental stimulation. Parental nurturance at age 4 predicts the volume of the left hippocampus in adolescence, with better nurturance associated with smaller hippocampal volume. In contrast, environmental stimulation did not correlate with hippocampal volume. Moreover, the association between hippocampal volume and parental nurturance disappears at age 8, supporting the existence of a sensitive developmental period for brain maturation. These findings indicate that variation in normal childhood experience is associated with differences in brain morphology, and hippocampal volume is specifically associated with early parental nurturance. Our results provide neuroimaging evidence supporting the important role of warm parental care during early childhood for brain maturation.

 

Date Posted: 14 June 2011

This document has been peer reviewed.