US researchers have found that early-life stress in rats leads to more significant changes in brain genes than childhood head injuries.
The study, from Ohio State University, which was presented at Neuroscience 2023 last week, could help in understanding the effects of both early-life stress and head injuries on long-term health and behaviour.
The researchers subjected newborn rats to stress by temporarily separating them from their mothers, and mimicking the impact of adverse childhood experiences.
The young rats were then exposed to a concussion-like head injury under anaesthesia. On examination, stress surpassed brain injury in terms of the overall effects on the regulation of brain genes.
Kathryn Lenz, leading author of the study which has not yet been published, said: "Stress is really powerful, and we shouldn't understate the impact of early life stress on the developing brain. I think it tends to get dismissed – but it's an incredibly important public health topic."