According to a new study from NYU Langone Medical Center/New York University School of Medicine a mother’s ‘TLC’ can help soothe pain and may also impact early brain development by altering gene activity in a part of the brain involved in emotions. The following is part of an article that appeared in Science Daily yesterday.

“Our study shows that a mother comforting her infant in pain does not just elicit a behavioral response, but also the comforting itself modifies – for better or worse – critical neural circuitry during early brain development,” says Regina Sullivan, PhD, a professor at the NYU School of Medicine and its affiliated Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research.

For the study, researchers performed genetic analyses on tissue from the almond-sized amygdala region of infant rat pups’ brains that is responsible for processing emotions, such as fear and pleasure.

Sullivan, whose earlier research showed how the mother’s presence controlled electrical signaling in the infant pup’s brain, says her latest findings shed insight on the complexity of treating pain in newborns.

“Nobody wants to see an infant suffer, in rats or any other species,” says Sullivan. “But if opiate drugs are too dangerous to use in human infants because of their addictive properties, then the challenge remains for researchers to find alternative environmental stimuli, including maternal presence, coddling, or other cues, such as a mother’s scent, that could relieve the pain.”

Sullivan cautions, however, that the long-term consequences of these genetic modifications must also be compared to the short-term benefits for tying pain stimuli during infancy to such a powerful symbol of safety and security as the infant’s mother.

“The more we learn about nurturing the infant brain during infancy, the better prepared we are to deal long-term with treating problems that arise from pain, and physical and mental abuse experienced during infancy,” says Sullivan.

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