Brain function linked to birth size in groundbreaking new study

Feb 18, 2011

Scientists have discovered the first evidence linking brain function variations between the left and right sides of the brain to size at birth and the weight of the placenta. The finding could shed new light on the causes of mental health problems in later life.

The research, conducted at the University of Southampton and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at Southampton General Hospital, reveals that children who were born small, with relatively large placentas, showed more activity on the right side of their brains than the left. It is this pattern of that has been linked with mood disorders such as depression.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that adverse environments experienced by fetuses during pregnancy (indicated by smaller birth size and larger placental size) can cause long-term changes in the function of the brain.

"The way we grow before birth is influenced by many things including what our mothers eat during pregnancy and how much stress they are experiencing. This can have long-lasting implications for our mental and physical health in later life," explains Dr Alexander Jones, an epidemiologist, who led the study at the University of Southampton.

"This is the first time we've been able to link growth before birth to brain activity many years later. We hope this research can begin to shed new light on why certain people are more prone to diseases such as depression."

The neurological responses of 140 children from Southampton, aged between eight and nine, were monitored for the study. Tests evaluated blood flow to the brain in response to increased brain activity, exposing differences in the activity of the two sides. Dr Jones measured tiny fluctuations in the temperature of the tympanic membrane in each ear, which indicate blood flow into different parts of the brain.

Disproportionate growth of the placenta and the fetus is thought to occur in pregnancies where the mother has been experiencing stress or where there have been problems with the availability of nutrients. Previous research has linked this pattern of growth to other diseases such as hypertension and greater physical responses to stress in later life.

The research by Dr Jones and colleagues, has been published in the online science journal, PLoS ONE.

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More information: A pdf of the full paper is freely available at: www.plosone.org/article/fetchO… 1&representation=PDF

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User comments : 6

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Moebius
5 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2011
I've noticed an apparent connection between birth order and size. Younger siblings seem to be bigger (and dumber?) more often than not.
Birthmark
not rated yet Feb 18, 2011
I've noticed an apparent connection between birth order and size. Younger siblings seem to be bigger (and dumber?) more often than not.


I always hear this connection that the oldest sibling is the most intelligent, and it seems to be true in certain cases (maybe the majority of cases) but of course there are exceptions and I've noticed that as well.

I wonder if the birth order has a connection on the weight of the placenta and/or baby.
gwrede
5 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2011
I've noticed an apparent connection between birth order and size. Younger siblings seem to be bigger (and dumber?) more often than not.
I always hear this connection that the oldest sibling is the most intelligent, and it seems to be true in certain cases (maybe the majority of cases) but of course there are exceptions and I've noticed that as well.

I wonder if the birth order has a connection on the weight of the placenta and/or baby.
That's very interesting. I have noticed the same thing. And I have not seen too many studies about it, which is surprising, since siblings are all over the place, and birth weight and placenta weight data are routinely recorded in most countries anyway.

One would expect the reverse to be true, that is, that later siblings would be smarter, stronger and better in all measurable ways. One could think that mother's body sort-of gets used to bearing children, which should result in better quality down the line.
Beard
5 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2011
The basic finding that firstborns have higher IQ scores has itself been disputed. One group of researchers examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) (USA), which gave them the opportunity to look at a large randomly selected sample of US families. The sample included children whose academic performance had been reviewed multiple times throughout their academic careers. This study found no relationship between birth order and intelligence.


en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birth_order

High birth mass is also directly linked to increased IQ.
ubavontuba
3 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2011
High birth mass is also directly linked to increased IQ.
Especially, if the head is particularly large.
Moebius
not rated yet Feb 28, 2011
How many really big AND really smart people are there? Seems to me the majority of smart people are not big people. And by big I don't mean necessarily tall, the big people I am talking about are bigger boned, thicker and stouter.

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