Funding for study on maternal separation and the rat brain

11 April 2007 | Story by Daniella Pollock

Professor Vivienne Russell is one of the principal investigators in a study on perinatal stress in rats.

A team of local and international researchers has received a grant from the John E Fogarty International Centre, of the US National Institutes of Health, for their work on trauma caused by maternal separation.

UCT's Professor Vivienne Russell of the Department of Human Biology, Professor Willie Daniels of the University of Stellenbosch and Professor Michael Zigmond of the University of Pittsburg will pool data on how perinatal stress affects the brain and, moreover, how to counteract these neurological malfunctions.

Using rats, Russell, a key member of UCT's Brain and Behaviour Initiative, and UCT collaborators will focus on the impact of maternal separation on mitochondrial function and dopamine neurons in the brain. They will also test the effects of exercise on brain function in stressed rats, ie offspring whose mothers are removed for a couple of hours each day.

Two of Russell's PhD students have already shown that exercise protects the neurons in a rat model for Parkinson's disease, but less so in rats that have experienced prenatal or postnatal stress.

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