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Males could help develop offspring's brains before pregnancy

Published Jul 2, 2015, 12:00 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 4:52 pm IST
Male pheromones seem to influence the nutritional environment following birth
Washington: A new study has shown that males could positively influence development of offspring's brains before pregnancy.
Sachiko Koyama, an associate research scientist at Indiana University and lead researcher said that in the first of kind study, they found that male pheromones seem to influence the nutritional environment following birth, resulting in changes to the brain that could extend to future generations.
Pheromones are chemical signals used to communicate between organisms of the same species. The connection between male pheromones and offspring's brain development seems to stem from the influence of male pheromones on the nursing ability of mother mice.
Specifically, IU scientists measured greater mammary gland development in mice exposed to male pheromones a week after exposure, which may have led to greater volumes or improved quality of milk production. These mother mice also showed lengthier nursing periods compared to mice not exposed to the male pheromone.
These improvements in brain development and cognitive function may stem from specific "neuro-enhancing" chemicals in breast milk, such as sialic acid, a component of breast milk also found at high levels in the brain during early development. IU researchers found higher levels of polysialyltransferase-an enzyme that requires sialic acid to produce a molecule involved in neural cell development-in the brains of the offspring of female mice exposed to male pheromones compared to the control group.
Koyama said the new IU study contributes to the growing field of epigenetics, which studies the influence of the environment on genetics, such as when nutrition creates changes in the body which may be passed on to the next generation.
If they could find the specific milk "ingredients" that affect cognitive function in the offspring, eventually they might be able to use them as supplements to enhance brain development, she added.
The study is published in Biological Sciences.