Neurons that process sensory information such as touch and vision are arranged in precise, well-characterized maps that are crucial for translating perception into understanding. A study published by Cell Press on October 14 in the journalDevelopmental Cell reveals that the actual act of birth in mice causes a reduction in a brain chemical called serotonin in the newborn mice, triggering sensory maps to form. The findings shed light on the key role of a dramatic environmental event in the development of neural circuits and reveal that birth itself is one of the triggers that prepares the newborn for survival outside the womb.
“Our results clearly demonstrate that birth has active roles in brain formation and maturation,” says senior study author Hiroshi Kawasaki of Kanazawa University in Japan. “We found that birth regulates neuronal circuit formation not only in the somatosensory system but also in the visual system. Therefore, it seems reasonable to speculate that birth actually plays a wider role in various brain regions.”