Having children changes your life, your priorities and, for mothers, possibly even your brain. In pregnant women, fetal cells – which are genetically distinct from the mother’s cells – can actually establish themselves in the mother, creating a phenomenon called fetal microchimerism. Research recently published in PLOS ONE showed that fetal cells may even be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The study found evidence of male DNA in several regions of women’s brains and cerebrospinal fluid, and a likely explanation is that this microchimerism originated when the women were pregnant with a son, although other sources are plausible. The health implications of microchimerism in the brain are not well known but for better or worse, moms seem to literally carry their children with them long after giving birth.
While not as literal as sharing cells, the mother – child bond has significant psychological implications as well. A study of children with anxiety disorders showed that the mere proximity of a caregiver (many times a mother) decreased neural stress markers when the children were faced with a threat. The findings show that even minimal social contact with a familiar person may help regulate neural mechanisms of emotional reactivity and alleviate the stress that children with anxiety disorders feel.
Human moms aren’t the only moms out there, though. Beluga whale mothers also seem to keep their babies on their minds and vice versa, research shows. Observers monitored mother belugas with their calves and observed that calves spent the majority of time swimming and resting on the right side of their mothers (watch the videos here). This positioning allows the calves to keep their left eye on their mother and thereby analyze information on a socially significant object (mom) with the right hemisphere of their brain. The right hemisphere is the side responsible for analyzing social information, recognizing novel objects and responding to unpredictable changes in the environment, while the left side is responsible for routine behavior such as feeding. This observation highlights how important recognition of social contact is in whales, where a mother calf bond is strong and persistent.
Let’s keep moms on our minds for Mother’s Day this Sunday. Have a good one Moms!
Citations: Chan WFN, Gurnot C, Montine TJ, Sonnen JA, Guthrie KA, et al. (2012) Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45592. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045592
Conner OL, Siegle GJ, McFarland AM, Silk JS, Ladouceur CD, et al. (2012) Mom—It Helps When You’re Right Here! Attenuation of Neural Stress Markers in Anxious Youths Whose Caregivers Are Present during fMRI. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50680. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050680
Karenina K, Giljov A, Baranov V, Osipova L, Krasnova V, et al. (2010) Visual Laterality of Calf–Mother Interactions in Wild Whales. PLoS ONE 5(11): e13787. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013787
Image: Mother and Child by kewl