The Handbook of Stress: Neuropsychological Effects on the Brain

By Cheryl D. Conrad | Go to book overview

14
Effect of Early Environment and
Separation Animal Models on
Neurobiological Development

Allison Jane Fulford


Shaping Brain and Behavior Through Experience

At the very beginning of the twentieth century, Gates (1904) published his hypothesis on brain building. He proposed that structural changes in the brain affecting overall volume could be induced by environmental manipulation. Hebb later observed that pet rats performed better than laboratory rats when learning a simple maze test (Hebb, 1947), leading to the premise that early experiential deprivation could produce intellectual deficits. Since such seminal work there has been a storm of interest in the concept that early environment can influence brain functions over the course of a lifetime. The consequences of social deprivation are obviously more significant in species that are by nature social animals. Thus, the effects of isolation are marked in the rat but quite different in the mouse, which is more territorial. The young rat engages in social play; behavior which is not seen, to such an extent, in other rodents (Einon et al., 1980). Thus, if isolation-rearing is introduced at a young age, exclusion of social play is quite detrimental to rat development, resulting in permanent deficits in behavior (Morgan, 1973; Einon and Morgan, 1977; Einon et al., 1980). Rhesus monkeys isolated during the first year of life also develop aberrant behaviors including stereotypy, hyperlocomotion, fearfulness, social withdrawal, learning deficits, and self-mutilation (Kraemer et al., 1984; Sanchez et al., 1998a, 1998b).

Models associated with aberrant neurodevelopment have been subject to intensive research. Understanding of the effects of adverse early environment has been impeded by discrepancies and variability in the literature. Such disparity involves variability in experimental parameters employed, including sex, strain, and species

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