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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2010 May;34(6):808-20. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.008. Epub 2010 Feb 18.

Early life influences on emotional reactivity: evidence that social enrichment has greater effects than handling on anxiety-like behaviors, neuroendocrine responses to stress and central BDNF levels.

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Section of Behavioural Neuroscience, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, I-00161, Rome, Italy.


During the early post-natal phases the brain is experience-seeking and provided by a considerable plasticity which allows a fine tuning between the external environment and the developing organism. Since the early work of Seymour Levine, an impressive amount of research has clearly shown that stressful experiences exert powerful effects on the brain and body development. These effects can last throughout the entire life span influencing brain function and increasing the risk for depression and anxiety disorders. The mechanisms underlying the effects of early stress on the developing organism have been widely studied in rodents through experimental manipulations of the post-natal environment, such as handling, which have been shown to exert important effects on the emotional phenotype and the response to stress. In the present paper we review the relevant literature and present some original data indicating that, compared to handling, which imposes an external manipulation on the mother-infant relationship, social enrichment, in the form of communal rearing, in mice has very profound effects on animal's emotionality and the response to stress. These effects are also accompanied by important changes in central levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. The present data indicate that communal rearing has more pervasive effects than handling, strengthening previous data suggesting that it is a good animal model of reduced susceptibility to depression-like behavior. Overall, the availability of ever more sophisticated animal models represents a fundamental tool to translate basic research data into appropriate interventions for humans raised under traumatic or impoverished situations.

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