Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), the Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute, and the Hospital del Mar Research Institute have published a comprehensive review of the neurobiological adaptations that occur during pregnancy and postpartum in humans and other animals. The study, published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, explores the connections between changes in brain structure, hormonal evolution, and maternal behavior, with the goal of advancing research in this area.
Previous research has shown that pregnancy causes changes in a mother’s brain morphology, particularly a reduction in gray matter in regions associated with social relations, which can persist for at least two years after giving birth. Estrogens are believed to be the primary hormones responsible for inducing these brain changes. However, there is still much to learn about the complex interplay between hormones, brain adaptations, and maternal behavior during pregnancy and postpartum.
The researchers highlight three key factors in understanding the neurobiological adaptations of motherhood in humans. First, estrogens play a crucial role in triggering brain plasticity processes during pregnancy and postpartum. Second, specific brain circuits involved in social cognition are where these changes occur. Finally, there are psychological changes, including cognitive and emotional processes, that are necessary for the development of the mother-child relationship.
The researchers propose several avenues for future research in this field. One area of focus should be identifying the specific brain cell substrates involved in the observed changes. It is unlikely that the large-scale changes in gray matter are solely due to plasticity, and hormones may play a role in this process. Understanding the mechanisms by which sexual hormones induce structural and behavioral reorganization is another important area for investigation.
Additionally, researchers should study the psychological evolution that occurs during pregnancy and postpartum and how it is related to functional changes in the brain. Improved methodologies in MRI studies and questionnaires can help establish a better understanding of the link between brain changes and maternal behavior.
While most of the existing studies have been conducted on rats, the researchers emphasize the need for more research on women. There are significant differences between humans and other animals, particularly in terms of brain structure and hormonal differences. By studying human subjects, researchers can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the neurobiological adaptations that occur during pregnancy and postpartum.
In conclusion, this review provides a roadmap for future research on the neurobiological adaptations of pregnancy and postpartum. By investigating the hormonal, structural, and behavioral changes that occur during this period, scientists can gain insights into the unique challenges and experiences of motherhood in humans.
– Nature Reviews Neuroscience
– Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)
– Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute
– Hospital del Mar Research Institute