Frequent cuddles from mum could help children “resist taking drugs later in life “
Intense mothering early in life could boost levels of an immune system molecule in the child”s brain
Babies with attentive mothers may produce greater levels of an immune system molecule that would help them resist becoming hooked on drugs as adults
An attentive, nurturing mother may be the key to helping her children resist the temptations of drug use as adults, a study has found.
Researchers from Duke University and the University of Adelaide in Australia, found attention in early childhood may actually change the immune response of the youngster”s brains.
In a study on rats, they found the pups of high-touch mothers had a higher level of a molecule called Interleukin-10.
This meant they were better able to resist the temptation of a dose of morphine much later in life.
The researchers used a technique called the “handling paradigm,” in which very young pups are removed from their mother”s cage for 15 minutes and then returned.
“As soon as they”re returned, she checks them out vigorously,” grooming the pups and cleaning them, Professor Bilbo said.
For a control group, another set of pups were never removed. Some of them had more attentive mothers than others, just by natural variation.
The animals then were put through a test called the “place preference chamber,” a two-roomed cage in which they would be given a dose of morphine if they entered one side, or a dose of saline on the other.
Over the next four weeks, the rats were returned to the two-sided chamber three times a week for five minutes, but were never given another dose of morphine.
Initially, they all showed a preference for the morphine side, but over time, the handled rats showed little preference, which indicated their craving had been “extinguished,” Professor Bilbo said.
About eight weeks after their first exposure to morphine, the animals were each given a very small dose of morphine to prime craving and then returned to the chamber.
The non-handled control rats preferred spending time in the morphine chamber; the handled rats still showed no clear preference.
Rats are used because they are susceptible to drug addiction in much the same way as humans. This is because they share the same reward pathway in the brain as well as most of the genes that govern it.
The study is the first to show how morphinecauses a molecular response in certain cells of the brain”s reward centres, which had only recently been identified as part of drug addiction”s circuitry.
Morphine activates the brain cells to produce inflammatory molecules which signal a reward centre of the brain.
But IL-10 works against that inflammation and reward. The more IL-10 the brain produces, the less likely morphine would cause an increase in craving or relapse weeks after the initial experience with the drug.
The brains of the rat pups who experienced high-touch mothering were found to have more active genes that produced four times more IL-10 than the control rats.
The team will next look at the long-term effects of maternal stress on the brain”s immune response.