Vaginal birth triggers the release of a protein in the brains of newborns that boosts brain development in adulthood, according to Yale scientists in the journal PLoS ONE. Additionally, the researchers note that the protein release is impaired in the brains of offspring delivered by caesarean section.
For the study, lead researcher Tamas Horvath looked at the effect of natural and surgical deliveries on mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) in mice. UCP2 is important for the correct development of the brain's hippocampal neurons which are responsible for short- and long-term memory. UCP2 is also involved in cellular metabolism of fat, which is a key component of breast milk, suggesting that the release of UCP2 by natural birth may aid in the transition to breast feeding.
Horvath found that natural birth triggered UCP2 expression in the neurons located in the hippocampal region of the brain. This was diminished in the brains of mice born via caesarean section.
"These results reveal a potentially critical role of UCP2 in the proper development of brain circuits and related behaviors," said Horvath. "The increasing prevalence of C-sections driven by convenience rather than medical necessity may have a previously unsuspected lasting effect on brain development and function in humans as well."
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Source: Yale University