n South African Psychiatry Review - Primary maternal preoccupation revisited : circuits, genes, and the crucial role of early life experience : review article

Volume 5, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1811-7805



Parental caregiving includes a set of highly conserved set of behaviors and mental states that may reflect both an individual's genetic endowment and the early experience of being cared for as a child. This review first examines the mental and behavioral elements of early parental caregiving in humans. Second, we consider what is known of the neurobiological substrates of maternal behaviors in mammalian species including some limited human data. Third, we briefly review the evidence that specific genes encode proteins that are crucial for the development of the neural substrates that underlie specific features of maternal behavior. Fourth, we review the literature on the "programming" role of epigenetic factors in shaping subsequent maternal behavior. We conclude that there are critical developmental windows during which the genetically determined microcircuitry of key limbic-hypothalamic-midbrain structures are susceptible to early environmental influences and that these influences powerfully shape an individual's responsivity to psychosocial stressors and their resiliency or vulnerability to various forms of human psychopathology later in life.

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