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Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews


A wealth of data from the last fifty years documents the potency of early life experiences including maternal care on developing offspring. A majority of this research has focused on the developing stress axis and stress-sensitive behaviors in hopes of identifying factors impacting resilience and risk-sensitivity. The power of early life experience to shape later development is profound and has the potential to increase fitness of individuals for their environments. Current findings in a rat maternal care paradigm highlight the complex and dynamic relation between early experiences and a variety of outcomes. In this review we propose adaptive hypotheses for alternate maternal strategies and resulting offspring phenotypes, and ways to distinguish between these hypotheses. We also provide evidence underscoring the critical role of context in interpreting the adaptive significance of early experiences. If our goal is to identify risk-factors relevant to humans, we must better explore the role of the social and physical environment in our basic animal models.


maternal behavior, maternal effects, stress, adaptation, fitness, licking, grooming





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© 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Peer reviewed accepted manuscript.

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