The way in which newborns are delivered may have a strong impact on brain development and function in adulthood because of an important brain-boosting protein triggered in the brain during birth. Natural birth seems to be more beneficial than surgical delivery of a newborn.
In research published in PLoS ONE, researchers at Yale School of Medicine found that a protein known as UCP2 is important for the proper development of hippocampal neurons and circuits. This area of the brain is responsible for short- and long-term memory.
The researchers studied the effect of natural and surgical deliveries with mice and discovered that expression of the UCP2 protein was triggered in the brains of offspring during a natural birth; but in the brains of the mice delivered via C-section, it was diminished. Inhibiting UCP2 function interfered with the differentiation of hippocampal neurons and circuits, and it impaired adult behaviors related to hippocampal functions.
UCP2 is also involved in cellular metabolism of fat, which is a key component of breast milk, suggesting that induction of UCP2 by natural birth may aid the transition to breast-feeding.
“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.”