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Brain Prepares Newborns For Birth, Study

Update Date: Oct 15, 2013 05:59 PM EDT

The reduction of serotonin during birth itself may prepare a newborn baby to survive outside of the womb, according to a new study. 

"Serotonin is a chemical produced by the body that enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with one another," said WebMD.

The natural act of reducing this chemical that is found in the brain at the time of birth triggers "sensory maps" to form. According to the study these maps are, "neurons that process sensory information such as touch and vision." These are important because they allow the newborn to understand what they see, feel and hear. 

For the study, researchers used mice to mimic the levels of serotonin reduced at birth in humans in order to understand how the sensory maps were affected. 

"Kawasaki and his team find that the birth of mouse pups leads to a drop in serotonin levels in the newborn's brain, triggering the formation of neural circuits in the barrel cortex and in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), a brain region that processes visual information," states the study.  

The study showed that when the mice were treated with drugs that made them induce birth or decreased serotonin communication, the way neurons interacted in the barrel cortex and the LGN developed much quickly. However neuron interaction in the barrel cortex did not develop when the mice were treated with a drug that increased serotonin communication.

Researchers found that the reduction of serotonin is vital for newborns to adjust to their new surroundings and the world right after birth.

"Our results clearly demonstrate that birth has active roles in brain formation and maturation," said senior study author Hiroshi Kawasaki of Kanazawa University in Japan in a news release. "We found that birth regulates neuronal circuit formation not only in the somatosensory system but also in the visual system. Therefore, it seems reasonable to speculate that birth actually plays a wider role in various brain regions."

Serotonin levels and birth defects are also known for possibly being a determinant in mental disorders. Because of this researchers want to use what they found in this study to better understand the brain development in people who suffer from these illnesses.  

"Uncovering the entire picture of the downstream signaling pathways of birth may lead to the development of new therapeutic methods to control the risk of psychiatric diseases induced by abnormal birth," said Kawasaki. 

The findings are published in the journal Developmental Cell

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