Maternal buffering beyond glucocorticoids: impact of early life stress on corticolimbic circuits that control infant responses to novelty

Brittany R. Howell, Matthew S. McMurray, Dora B. Guzman, Govind Nair, Yundi Shi, Kai M. McCormack, Xiaoping Hu, Martin A. Styner, Mar M. Sanchez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Maternal presence has a potent buffering effect on infant fear and stress responses in primates. We previously reported that maternal presence is not effective in buffering the endocrine stress response in infant rhesus monkeys reared by maltreating mothers. We have also reported that maltreating mothers show low maternal responsiveness and permissiveness/secure-base behavior. Although still not understood, it is possible that this maternal buffering effect is mediated, at least partially, through deactivation of amygdala response circuits when mothers are present. Here, we studied rhesus monkey infants that differed in the quality of early maternal care to investigate how this early experience modulated maternal buffering effects on behavioral responses to novelty during the weaning period. We also examined the relationship between these behavioral responses and structural connectivity in one of the underlying regulatory neural circuits: amygdala-prefrontal pathways. Our findings suggest that infant exploration in a novel situation is predicted by maternal responsiveness and structural integrity of amygdala-prefrontal white matter depending on maternal presence (positive relationships when mother is absent). These results provide evidence that maternal buffering of infant behavioral inhibition is dependent on the quality of maternal care and structural connectivity of neural pathways that are sensitive to early life stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-64
Number of pages15
JournalSocial neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [HD055255]; National Institute of Mental Health [F31 MH086203], [P50 MN078105], [T32MH015755]; Office of Research Infrastructure Programs/OD [P51 OD11132].

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Social buffering
  • infant maltreatment
  • maternal care
  • rhesus monkeys
  • uncinate fasciculus


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