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Depress Anxiety. 1999;10(3):99-104.

Feasibility of using fMRI to study mothers responding to infant cries.

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Department of Psychiatry, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston 29425, USA.


While parenting is a universal human behavior, its neuroanatomic basis is currently unknown. Animal data suggest that the cingulate may play an important function in mammalian parenting behavior. For example, in rodents cingulate lesions impair maternal behavior. Here, in an attempt to understand the brain basis of human maternal behavior, we had mothers listen to recorded infant cries and white noise control sounds while they underwent functional MRI (fMRI) of the brain. We hypothesized that mothers would show significantly greater cingulate activity during the cries compared to the control sounds. Of 7 subjects scanned, 4 had fMRI data suitable for analysis. When fMRI data were averaged for these 4 subjects, the anterior cingulate and right medial prefrontal cortex were the only brain regions showing statistically increased activity with the cries compared to white noise control sounds (cluster analysis with one-tailed z-map threshold of P < 0.001 and spatial extent threshold of P < 0.05). These results demonstrate the feasibility of using fMRI to study brain activity in mothers listening to infant cries and that the anterior cingulate may be involved in mothers listening to crying babies. We are currently replicating this study in a larger group of mothers. Future work in this area may help (1) unravel the functional neuroanatomy of the parent-infant bond and (2) examine whether markers of this bond, such as maternal brain response to infant crying, can predict maternal style (i.e., child neglect), offspring temperament, or offspring depression or anxiety.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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