Conditions in womb can affect brain development in teenage
Toronto, Jan 26 (IANS) A babys’ placement in the womb and access to nutrition can affect his or her brain later in adolescence, a study has found.
The findings showed that the utero environment was linked to the development of the cortex — a part of the brain that regulates emotions and is involved in various cognitive abilities.
“By the time children reached adolescence, differences in brain volume were present in the cortex, which is where much of our regulation of emotions and cognitive processes takes place,” said Linda Booij, Associate Professor at Concordia University in Canada.
Previous research has shown that baby’s birth weight is a predictor of the way the brain develops.
In the new study, the researchers followed a subgroup of 52 twin pairs from birth to adolescence, conducting brain imaging to analyse the structure of their cortex.
They measured the twins’ weight at birth to assess whether different environmental factors had affected them while in the womb.
Because twins share a prenatal environment, the foetuses have many environmental characteristics in common, like gestational age and the mother’s lifestyle but, they can still differ in birth weight.
These variations in birth weight were related to differences in the structure of the cortex, the researchers said.
Interestingly, the twins with large differences in birth weight and cortical structure also had epigenetic differences — changes in the activity of how a gene is expressed through environmental experiences.
“This means that what happens in the womb may affect a person’s brain development by the time they reach their teenage years, and that epigenetic processes may play a role in this relationship,” Booij added.
The study may contribute to a better understanding of possible ways to foster optimal early brain development and prevent emotional and cognitive problems in youth, the researchers noted.
The study was recently published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.