Editors' ChoiceBrain Development

Shh, the Baby Mice Are Resting

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Science Translational Medicine  18 Dec 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 216, pp. 216ec209
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3008233

Modern-day infants are exposed to numerous sources of sound and sensory stimulation, including electronic toys, television, and other devices that provide entertainment or background noise. For a while now, researchers have raised concerns about excessive noise and other stimulation leading to neurodevelopmental delays in premature babies, but now a study by Whiteus and coauthors suggests that full-term neonates may also be at risk and explains why this may be the case.

The authors studied neonatal mice to determine the effect of altered stimulation on blood vessel development in the brain. A moderate amount of environmental stimulation did not affect the baby mice, and neither did trimming the whiskers to reduce stimulation below baseline. However, a more intense exposure to repetitive whisker stimulation, sounds, motor activity or seizures had a detrimental effect on brain vasculature. Moreover, the animals that were exposed to hyperstimulation through the first neonatal month were unable to recover, and they developed permanent alterations in microvasculature and neuronal connections. This effect appeared to be specific to neonatal mice, because the vasculature of adult mice exposed to identical patterns of hyperstimulation was not altered. Whiteus et al. also showed that nitric oxide synthase (NOS) is involved in the process of altered vascular development, and inhibition of NOS blocks the effects of hyperstimulation.

Future research is needed to look for evidence of vascular abnormalities in the brains of human babies exposed to excessive stimulation and to determine how these vascular changes affect brain function or risk of disease. Meanwhile, we may want to listen to the pediatricians who are reminding us to turn off the television, put away the noisy toys with flashing lights, and offer our babies face-to-face interaction and the soothing sounds of quiet human speech.

C. Whiteus et al., Perturbed neural activity disrupts cerebral angiogenesis during a postnatal critical period. Nature, published online 4 December 2013 (10.1038/nature12821). [Abstract]

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