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Harvard Study Pinpoints Neurons that Control Parenting Behaviors

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Professor Catherine Dulac and her team have recently completed a study published in the journal Nature which identified neurons in the brain that affect grooming and protective behavior in parents versus neglectful and abusive behaviors.

Using mice and applying genetic tools, the researchers activated galanin neurons in virgin male mice. The results were striking. Once the neurons were activated, the males began to groom the pups instead of attacking them. Further tests, which killed the galanin neurons, resulted in parents who either ignored their pups altogether or attacked them.

While this study did not directly apply these findings to humans, Dulac stated that she would be surprised if these neurons did not exist in humans.

In light of the fact that neuronal connections in the brain are primarily formed during fetal life and in the first three years, these findings add an important piece of the puzzle comprising our deeper understanding of the way in which parenting patterns are passed down through the generations.

Here is a link to the abstract and study: Galanin neurons in the medial preoptic area govern parental behaviour

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