[Paleopsych] It pays to lick the rich

HowlBloom at aol.com HowlBloom at aol.com
Wed Jul 28 13:51:41 UTC 2004

Can the balance of nerve growth factor and of glucorticoids be one of the 
stress balancers in the brain, the ones I’ve been hunting down, the one that can 
cave in in chronic fatigue syndrome?
Different strokes produce different folks—provided those folks are rats.
A loving mother, a mother who pets and licks you, makes you confident.  A 
skittish mother who hesitates to touch you preordains you to be easily spooked.  
Hugs—or the lack of them—change the way genes function.  Those genes boost or 
block nerve growth factor and the way your brain handles stress hormones. 
This reset of genes resets something grander—personality.
Pulling out to look at the slightly larger picture, if your mother was under 
lots of threat and was too nervous to cuddle you, you may well be born into 
the high-risk world that made her so distraught.  In a world filled with danger, 
it may make sense to be fearful and hide.  On the other hand, if your mom 
felt rosy, confident, and on top of her world, she may have been cruising along 
in an atmosphere of privilege, abundance, and safety.  If you’re born into her 
sphere of rank and guaranteed plenty, confident exploration may be a luxury 
you can well afford.
Earlier research once convinced me that the rich do much to explore the 
strange on our behalf.  They play status games by competing to own things that are 
rare and strange.  As a consequence, they act as antennae, feeding novelty and 
fresh possibilities into our brains.  The status symbols of the rich are 
often goods from exotic cultures or from mine shafts half way round the world, 
shafts in diamond or titanium tunnels it takes a huge investment to excavate.  Or 
the rich go for ancient masterpieces and archaelogical treasures from digs in 
obscure places and from layers left by the people of even more obscure 
periods of time.  The rich, with their smug self-confidence bring riches like the 
rarities at the Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum, the Louvre, the 
Getty, and the Tate into the mainstream.
It’s a drag to praise the rich for anything.  They have so much more money 
than you and me that envy’s more the order of the day.  But apparently if their 
moms—or nannies—lick them regularly, they can boldly buy where no man has 
bought before, and in the process add to our middle-class lives.  Howard
Retrieved July 28, 2004, from the World Wide Web 
 Science News Online  Week of July 17, 2004; Vol. 166, No. 3 Groomed DNA 
Handles Threats: Mothering styles alter rats' stress responses  Bruce Bower  A 
rodent mother can't scold or praise her offspring, but her approach to mothering 
lays a genetic foundation for her pups' life-long response to threats, 
neuroscientists have found.  Rats raised by moms who frequently lick and groom them 
undergo permanent changes in patterns of gene activity, leading to a penchant 
for exploratory behavior in stressful situations, say Michael J. Meaney and his 
colleagues at McGill University in Montreal.  In contrast, rats raised with 
little maternal contact end up with gene activity that fosters fearfulness in 
the face of stress, the researchers report in the August Nature Neuroscience. 
>From an evolutionary perspective, having both behaviors in a population is 
beneficial.  "Early experience can have lifelong consequences on behavior, and 
[this new report] reveals the genetic scaffolding of this phenomenon to an 
unprecedented extent," remarks neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky of Stanford 
University.  Meaney's group previously showed that female rats express either a high- or 
a low-contact mothering style. Animals raised with lots of physical contact 
later react to stress by secreting small amounts of glucocorticoids, a class of 
stress hormones. These rats also possess large numbers of glucocorticoid 
receptors in an inner-brain structure called the hippocampus. Rats raised with 
little physical contact secrete large amounts of glucocorticoids when stressed 
and possess relatively few receptors for these hormones.  In another study, 
Meaney's group found that pups raised by doting mothers had high concentrations of 
a substance called nerve growth factor–inducible protein A (NGFI-A) in their 
hippocampi. It attaches to genes for glucocorticoid receptors, boosting those 
genes' capacity to regulate the hormone's secretion.  The researchers' new 
report shows how NGFI-A offers stress-fighting aid only to pampered rats. On the 
first day after birth, in all the rat pups, regulatory proteins inactivate 
NGFI-A's binding location on glucocorticoid-receptor genes. Over the next week, 
in rats raised with high-contact mothering, the concentration of these 
regulatory proteins decreases sufficiently to enable NGFI-A to do its job of boosting 
production of hormone receptors. These rats retain this genetic trait for 
life, the investigators say.  In contrast, the regulatory proteins in unpampered 
rats stay high, and the abundance of hormone receptors remains low.  Moreover, 
only high-contact animals displayed another biochemical change, according to 
Meaney's team. The change decreased the binding of histones to DNA, thereby 
letting NGFI-A attach and boost the activity of glucocorticoid-receptor genes.  
The researchers also tested a drug that blocks the binding of histones to DNA. 
When they injected it into adult rats that had been raised by low-contact 
mothers, the scientists found that the animals responded to stress much as 
pampered animals do. These behaviors were reflected on the molecular level, in 
patterns of expression of stress hormones and receptors.  Whether differing styles 
by human mothers induce similar molecular changes in their offspring remains an 
open question.  If you have a comment on this article that you would like 
considered for publication in Science News, send it to editors at sciencenews.org. 
Please include your name and location.  To subscribe to Science News (print), 
go to https://www.kable.com/pub/scnw/ subServices.asp.  To sign up for the free 
weekly e-LETTER from Science News, go to 
http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/subscribe_form.asp.  References:  Weaver, I.C.G. . . . and M.J. Meaney. In press. 
Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior. Nature Neuroscience. Abstract 
available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn1276.  Sources:  Michael J. Meaney 
McGill Program for the Study of Behaviour, Genes and Environment McGill University 
3655 Sir William Osler Promenade Montréal, QC H3G 1Y6 Canada  Robert Sapolsky 
Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences Stanford University School 
of Medicine Gilbert Laboratory, MC 5020 Stanford, CA 94305-5020  
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20040717/fob3.asp  From Science News, Vol. 166, No. 3, 
July 17, 2004, p. 36.  Copyright (c) 2004 Science Service. All rights 

Howard Bloom
Author of The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of 
History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From The Big Bang to the 
21st Century
Visiting Scholar-Graduate Psychology Department, New York University; Faculty 
Member, The Graduate Institute
Founder: International Paleopsychology Project; founding board member: Epic 
of Evolution Society; founding board member, The Darwin Project; founder: The 
Big Bang Tango Media Lab; member: New York Academy of Sciences, American 
Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Society, Academy 
of Political Science, Human Behavior and Evolution Society, International 
Society for Human Ethology; advisory board member: Youthactivism.org; executive 
editor -- New Paradigm book series.
For information on The International Paleopsychology Project, see: 
for two chapters from 
The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History, 
see www.howardbloom.net/lucifer
For information on Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang 
to the 21st Century, see www.howardbloom.net
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