Optimal early development in most species is critically dependent upon a stable relationship between the mother and her infant. The research focus of our laboratory concentrates on the reciprocal nature of this dyad, with respect to the regulation of stress responsiveness in both mother and offspring and the long term neurophysiological and behavioral consequences of early environmental stressors in the offspring. Non-genomic maternal influences on the infant are primarily routed through changes in nutrition and maternal care in the early postnatal period. It is now well recognized in rodents and to a certain extent in humans that variations in maternal care for instance, are associated with molecular changes in the central nervous system leading to modifications in stress responsiveness and coping mechanisms in the long-term. Dietary influences are critical not only to regulate infant growth, but also to modulate the response of the neuroendocrine system to stress and possibly to influence some aspects of brain development. In particular, we examine the consequences of early exposure to high fat diet on the development of reward pathways and preference towards specific food intake in the offspring and investigate the role of metabolic hormones such as leptin, ghrelin and insulin in mediating these effects. Dietary fat intake is also important in providing precursor molecules that have important neurotransmitter functions such as endocannabinoids, which are lipid-derived retrograde transmitters and actively participate in regulation of stress responses in the adult. We are actively seeking to define their role in the establishment of vulnerability to stress during the developmental period.
Stress responses, development, lactation, obesity and metabolism, neurogenesis, maternal behaviour, neuroendocrinology