Brain structures and hormones in parents when children are raised

In a comment on a paper in the same issue of PNAS Sarina Saturn describes how Abraham et coworkers have analysed the complex relationship of neural activation, hormones and behaviour in first time parents comparing primary care /PC) mothers and secondary care (SC) fathers who are partners of mothers and primary care (PC) fathers who raise a child without a mother.

Abraham  et al. have identified characteristic features common to fathers and mothers and, not surprisingly, also features where mothers and fathers differ. An emotional network including  the amygdala (AMY),* ventral anterior cingulate cortex (vACC),* insula,* inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), and ventral tegmental area (VTA).* *Subcortical and paralimbic structures not located at the outer cortical surface was found as well as a mentalizing network which includes superior temporal sulcus (STS), frontopolar cortex (FPC), ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and temporal poles (TP).  Cites from PNAS:

PC-mothers displayed the greatest activation of the emotional system, and this activation significantly related to parent–infant synchrony and oxytocin levels. SC-fathers, in contrast, exhibited more activation of the cortical system. Fascinatingly, PC-fathers showed amygdala activation similar to PC-mothers and STS activation similar to SC-fathers, with pronounced functional connectivity between the two regions. This suggests that when a baby is raised by PC-fathers, both systems are used for optimal childrearing.

For both PC-fathers and SC-fathers, the STS–amygdala overlap directly related to how much the men were involved in tending to the baby, and STS activation correlated with oxytocin levels and parent–infant synchrony. This provides evidence that exposure to the infants and caretaking activities can groom oxytocin and neural systems to carry out the degree of paternal involvement.

This is a first time that these interactions have been studied. Nicely done!

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