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Psychosom Med. 1996 Nov-Dec;58(6):612-21.

Enduring effects of infant feeding experiences on adult blood pressure.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, New York, USA.



Vulnerability to psychosomatic diseases is influenced by events early in life. The objective of this article is to discuss animal research that demonstrates relationships between feeding experiences and growth in infancy and risk of hypertension in adulthood.


Subjects were spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR) and their normotensive Wistar Kyoto progenitors. Initial experiments involved observations of the behaviors of rat mothers and their infants and follow-up measurements of blood pressures. Further studies focused on measurements of infant blood pressure during feeding, and recent investigations manipulated weight gain and sex hormones early in life.


Infant rats whose mothers were seen nursing more often had increased blood pressure as adults. Each time rat mothers delivered milk to their young, the nursing pups' blood pressures rose dramatically. These feeding-induced increases in blood pressure have been observed in the young of many species including humans. They are mediated by autonomic nervous system activity and are larger in SHR pups. Finally, animals that gain weight rapidly as infants as a consequence of being reared in small litters had higher adult blood pressure; but, this effect is seen only in intact males.


Adult physiologic traits can be influenced by the joint actions of genetic predisposition and essential psychosocial interactions during early development. Animal models can stimulate new ideas, provide important confirmations and elaborations of hypotheses from human investigations, and afford experimental approaches for identifying mechanisms underlying the transduction of behavioral experience to disease susceptibility.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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