YALE (US) — Natural birth triggers the expression of a protein in the brains of newborns that improves brain development and function in adulthood, according to a new study.
The Yale School of Medicine researchers also report that this protein expression is impaired in the brains of offspring delivered by caesarean section (C-sections).
These findings are published in the August issue of PLoS ONE by a team of researchers led by Tamas Horvath, professor of biomedical research and chair of the department of comparative medicine.
The team studied the effect of natural and surgical deliveries on mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) in mice. UCP2 is important for the proper development of hippocampal neurons and circuits. This area of the brain is responsible for short- and long-term memory.
UCP2 is involved in cellular metabolism of fat, which is a key component of breast milk, suggesting that induction of UCP2 by natural birth may aid the transition to breastfeeding.
The researchers found that natural birth triggered UCP2 expression in the neurons located in the hippocampal region of the brain. This was diminished in the brains of mice born via C-section.
Knocking out the UCP2 gene or chemically inhibiting UCP2 function interfered with the differentiation of hippocampal neurons and circuits, and impaired adult behaviors related to hippocampal functions.
“These results reveal a potentially critical role of UCP2 in the proper development of brain circuits and related behaviors,” says Horvath.
“The increasing prevalence of C-sections driven by convenience rather than medical necessity may have a previously unsuspected lasting effect on brain development and function in humans as well.”
Other authors of the study include Julia Simon-Areces, Marcelo O. Dietrich, Gretchen Hermes, Luis Miguel Garcia-Segura, and Maria-Angeles Arevalo. The National Institutes of Health funded the study.
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