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Developmental Biology - Early Life Stress

Good Infant Nutrition Can Protect Against Stress

Good nutrition could protect children from cognitive difficulties...

Good nutrition in early life may protect against stress induced changes in brain development in young mice, according to data presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Study findings suggest that a nutrient rich diet may have protective effects on brain development in young mice exposed to early life stress. Stress that reduces pups' risk for learning and memory issues in later life.

In humans and animals, it has been reported that exposure to adversity such as a lack of nutrients or maternal neglect in early life, can have long lasting affects on adult brain function. The period just after birth is critical to brain development as nutrients are needed for the hugh energy demands for cells building the fast developing brain. Any deficit in essential nutrients during this time could result in long lasting damage to brain function, including in the ability to learn.
Stress and metabolic processes are closely interlinked. The question left to be answered is whether stress-related cognitive problems in early life can be prevented or even reversed by good nutrition. A possibility yet to be fully investigated.

In this study, Aniko Korosi PhD, and her colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, created a mouse model to investigate the effects of a lack of essential nutrients on future brain function. Early life stress was mimicked by reducing the amount of maternal care and attention usually given pups within the first 2 weeks of birth. By the age of 4 months, these neglected pups showed several impairments, including (1) increased body fat, (2) high stress hormone levels and (3) poor performance in skills needed to complete memory tasks.
However, mice given a cocktail of micronutrients (including B vitamins and essential fatty acids), for just one week during their first weeks of life, showed improvements executing the same learning and memory tasks at 4 months old.

"Our findings indicate that good nutrition during exposure to stress in early life could be protective of brain function, and may even help children cope better in later life. However, much more research is needed to establish whether the data from mice is transferrable to humans."

Aniko Korosi PhD, Faculty of Science Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, University of Amsterdam.

Korosi's team now plans to investigate whether a nutrient rich diet begun later in life has any beneficial effects on reversing the consequences of early stresses.

She adds: "An ever growing body of research, in animals and humans, indicates that experiences in early childhood can have very long lasting effects on our future health and wellbeing. This work is a step towards understanding these processes and suggests we should carefully consider the quality and consequence of diet and lifestyle much earlier in life."

Endocrine Abstracts (2018) 59 S6.3
Early-life stress (ES) is associated with increased vulnerability to cognitive impairments as well as metabolic disorders like obesity later in life. We investigate the role of a synergistic effect of stress, metabolic factors, nutrition and the neuroimmune system in this early-life induced programming. We use an established model of chronic ES and expose mice to limited nesting and bedding material during first postnatal week and study the central and peripheral systems under basal and challenged conditions (i.e. LPS, amyloid accumulation, western style diet (WSD) and exercise) to gain further insight in the functionality of brain plasticity, microglia and adipose tissue. In addition, given the high nutritional demand during development, we propose that early nutrition is critical for programming of brain and body. We focus on essential micronutrients and fatty acids and propose that an early dietary intervention with a diet enriched with these nutrients might protect against ES-induced functional deficits. We show that ES leads to cognitive impairments associated with reduced hippocampal neurogenesis at basal conditions as well as in response to exercise, primed microglia with exaggerated response to LPS or amyloid accumulation. Metabolically, ES mice exhibit a leaner phenotype but they accumulate more fat in response to WSD. Finally, with an early dietary intervention with micronutrient or fatty acid we were able to (at least partly) prevent ES-induced cognitive decline, likely mediated by modulation of microglia, without however affecting the ES-induced metabolic profile. These studies give new insights for the development of targeted dietary interventions for vulnerable populations. DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.59.S6.3.

Kit-yi Yam, Eva Naninck, Maralinde Abbink, Silvie Ruigrok, Kitty Reemst, Paul Lucassen, Janssen Kotah and Korosi Aniko.

This research was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (MH083317, MH109280, NS082007, and NS090083 to L.M.; and AG051773 and AG051773 and AG045781 to W-C.X.)

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Dec 12, 2018   Fetal Timeline   Maternal Timeline   News   News Archive

Early life stress (ES) is associated with increased vulnerability to cognitive impairment as well as metabolic disorders - like obesity - as an adult. Image Credit: Public domain.

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