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Pregnancy changes a woman's brain: study

Some alterations lasted at least two years, they reported but did not appear to erode memory or other mental processes

AFP | PTI  |  Paris 

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causes "long-lasting" physical changes to a woman's brain, with significant, but seemingly beneficial, grey matter loss in parts of the crucial organ, a study said today.

Some alterations lasted at least two years, they reported but did not appear to erode memory or other mental processes.


The changes "concern areas associated with functions necessary to manage the challenges of motherhood," study co-author Erika Barba-Muller of the Autonomous University of (UAB) said in a statement.

The radical hormone surges and physical changes of have long been known and studied, but its effects on the have been little understood.

The new study, published in Nature Neuroscience, claims to provide the first evidence "that confers long-lasting changes in a woman's "

It compared pre- and post-scans of 25 first-time mothers. They researchers also looked at the brains of first-time fathers, as well as men and women with no

It found "pronounced and long-lasting GM (grey matter) volume reductions in a woman's brain" in pregnancy, in regions involved in social processes.

In later tests, these same regions lit up most of scans measuring the women's responses to their babies.

The changes were likely an adaptation for motherhood -- boosting the ability to recognise the needs and emotional state of a baby and decode potential threats to its and safety, said the researchers.

Grey matter is found in the brain's wrinkly outer layer called the cerebral cortex, which houses the processes of learning and memory, motor function, social skills, language and problem solving.

The good news: the researchers "did not observe any changes in memory or other cognitive functions during the pregnancies and therefore believe that the loss of grey matter does not imply any cognitive defects," said a statement.

The study tested the women up to two years after pregnancy, so it is not clear how long the changes last.

The study pointed to a process called "synaptic pruning" which happens to humans in adolescence to remove rarely-used synapses -- connections between cells.

This is done to make way, after childhood, for more efficient and specialised synapses and boost the network's overall efficiency.

A similar process may be at play in pregnancy, the researchers speculated.

First Published: Tue, December 20 2016. 03:22 IST
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