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Mother’s Touch Effects on Brain Development

Recent research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, indicates that a mother’s touch not only provides security, comfort and love but also cognitive function and stress reduction. This study was performed using rats. The results indicated that “sensory stimuli from maternal care can modify the gene that controls a key messenger of stress called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)” (1). Basically, when a baby senses soothing touch, DNA in the brain cells activate a “silencer” of CRH in the hypothalamus. As a result of decreased CRH, nerual dendrites can fully develop in the hippocampus (2).

This is important information for early intervention therapists to reassure mother’s that their touch alone is a positive intervention in their babies brain development.

Would love to see this study done in older rats to find evidence based research that human touch can change the hippocampus’ wiring. That would be a great stride for sensory integration therapy techniques.

An additional study of valuable information regarding human touch was published in Nature Neuroscience. This study indicated that people preferred to be touched (soft brush stroking) at a certain speed: 4-5 cm per second. When the touch was pleasurable it activated “C-tactile” nerve fibers which are only present on skin with hair on it (3).

1. University of California Irvine. Mother’s Touch. Retrieved from the web on 5/6/10 at http://www.uci.edu/features/2010/05/feature_sensory_100503.php

2. Aniko Korosi, Marya Shanabrough, Shawn McClelland, Zhong-Wu Liu, Erzsebet Borok, Xiao-Bing Gao, Tamas L. Horvath, and Tallie Z. Baram Early-Life Experience Reduces Excitation to Stress-Responsive Hypothalamic Neurons and Reprograms the Expression of Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone J. Neurosci. 30: 703-713; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4214-09.2010

3. Loken, L et al. Coding of Pleasant Touch by Unmyelinated Afferents in Humans. Nature Neuroscience 2009 12, 547-548.