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Father Absenteeism Linked Brain Abnormalities

Update Date: Dec 04, 2013 01:05 PM EST

Growing up without a father alters brain anatomy and impairs social and behavioral abilities in adults, according to a new study on mice.

Researchers believe that latest study is the first 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," senior author Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, of the Mental Illness and Addiction Axis at the RI-MUHC and an associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, said in a news release. "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," added first author Francis Bambico, a former student of Dr. Gobbi at McGill and now a post-doc at the Center 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."

After comparing the differences between social behavior and brain anatomy of mice raised with both patents to those raised only by their mothers, researchers found that animals raised without a father had abnormal social interactions and were more aggressive than counterparts raised with both parents. The study revealed that female offspring were more affected their brothers. Female mice raised without fathers were also more sensitive to the stimulant drug amphetamine.

"The behavioral deficits we observed are consistent with human studies of children raised without a father," explained Gobbi. "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."

Mice with absent fathers were also more likely to have defects in their prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for social and cognitive activity.

"This is the first time research findings have shown that paternal deprivation during development affects the neurobiology of the offspring," Gobbi said.

The findings are published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

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