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Dads: How important are they? New research highlights value of fathers in both neurobiology and behavior of offspring

Date:
December 4, 2013
Source:
McGill University Health Centre
Summary:
Even with today's technology, it still takes both a male and a female to make a baby. But is it important for both parents to raise that child? Many studies have outlined the value of a mother, but few have clearly defined the importance of a father, until now. New findings show that the absence of a father during critical growth periods, leads to impaired social and behavioral abilities in adults.

Fathers play an important role in the development of their children, new research in mice shows.
Credit: asife / Fotolia

Even with today's technology, it still takes both a male and a female to make a baby. But is it important for both parents to raise that child? Many studies have outlined the value of a mother, but few have clearly defined the importance of a father, until now. New findings from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) show that the absence of a father during critical growth periods, leads to impaired social and behavioral abilities in adults. This research, which was conducted using mice, was published today in the journal Cerebral Cortex. It is the first study to link father absenteeism with social attributes and to correlate these with physical changes in the brain.

"Although we used mice, the findings are extremely relevant to humans," says senior author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a researcher of the Mental Illness and Addiction Axis at the RI-MUHC and an associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. "We used California mice which, like in some human populations, are monogamous and raise their offspring together."

"Because we can control their environment, we can equalize factors that differ between them," adds first author, Francis Bambico, a former student of Dr. Gobbi at McGill and now a post-doc at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. "Mice studies in the laboratory may therefore be clearer to interpret than human ones, where it is impossible to control all the influences during development."

Dr. Gobbi and her colleagues compared the social behavior and brain anatomy of mice that had been raised with both parents to those that had been raised only by their mothers. Mice raised without a father had abnormal social interactions and were more aggressive than counterparts raised with both parents. These effects were stronger for female offspring than for their brothers. Females raised without fathers also had a greater sensitivity to the stimulant drug, amphetamine.

"The behavioral deficits we observed are consistent with human studies of children raised without a father," says Dr. Gobbi, who is also a psychiatrist at the MUHC. "These children have been shown to have an increased risk for deviant behavior and in particular, girls have been shown to be at risk for substance abuse. This suggests that these mice are a good model for understanding how these effects arise in humans."

In pups deprived of fathers, Dr. Gobbi's team also identified defects in the mouse prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that helps control social and cognitive activity, which is linked to the behavioral deficits.

"This is the first time research findings have shown that paternal deprivation during development affects the neurobiology of the offspring," says Dr. Gobbi. These results should incite researchers to look more deeply into the role of fathers during critical stages of growth and suggest that both parents are important in children's mental health development.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by McGill University Health Centre. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Francis R. Bambico, Baptiste Lacoste, Patrick R. Hattan, and Gabriella Gobbi. Father Absence in the Monogamous California Mouse Impairs Social Behavior and Modifies Dopamine and Glutamate Synapses in the Medial Prefrontal Cortex. Cereb. Cortex, 2013 DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bht310

Cite This Page:

McGill University Health Centre. "Dads: How important are they? New research highlights value of fathers in both neurobiology and behavior of offspring." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131204091610.htm>.
McGill University Health Centre. (2013, December 4). Dads: How important are they? New research highlights value of fathers in both neurobiology and behavior of offspring. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131204091610.htm
McGill University Health Centre. "Dads: How important are they? New research highlights value of fathers in both neurobiology and behavior of offspring." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131204091610.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

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