A research team found that when baby rhesus monkeys endured high rates of maternal rejection and mild abuse in their first month of life, their brains often produced less serotonin, a chemical that transmits impulses in the brain. Low levels of serotonin are associated with anxiety and depression and impulsive aggression in both humans and monkeys.
Abused females who became abusive mothers in adulthood had lower serotonin in their brains than abused females who did not become abusive parents, the research showed. Because the biological make up of humans and monkeys is quite similar, the findings from the monkey research could be valuable in understanding human child abuse, said Dario Maestripieri, Associate Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago.
“This research could have important implications for humans because we do not fully understand why some abused children become abusive parents and others don’t,” Maestripieri said. The research suggests that treatments with drugs that increase brain serotonin early in an abused child’s life could reduce the likelihood that the child will grow up to become abusive, Maestripieri said.
The team found that infants who became abusive as adults had about 10 to 20 percent less serotonin than did infants who did not become abusive as parents or infants who were not exposed to maternal abuse. The reduced level of serotonin remained constant into adulthood.
The effects of maternal behaviour on brain serotonin in the offspring were observed in both infants that were reared by their genetic mothers and infants reared by foster mothers.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Chicago