Consequences of Early-Life Experiences on Cognition and Emotion: A Role for Nutrition and Epigenetic Mechanisms
E.F.G. Naninck, P.J. Lucassen, and Aniko Korosi
Perinatal experiences during a critical developmental period program brain structure and function “for life,” thereby determining vulnerability to psychopathology and cognition in adulthood. Although these functional consequences are associated with alterations in HPA-axis activity and hippocampal structure and function, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. The parent-offspring relationship (i.e., sensory and nutritional inputs by the mother) is key in mediating these lasting effects. This chapter discusses how early-life events, for example, the amount of maternal care, stress, and nutrition, can affect emotional and cognitive functions later in life. Interestingly, effects of perinatal malnutrition resemble the perinatal stress-induced long-term deficits. Because stress and nutrition are closely interrelated, it proposes that altered stress hormones and changes in specific key nutrients during critical developmental periods act synergistically to program brain structure and function, possibly via epigenetic mechanisms. Understanding how the adult brain is shaped by early experiences is essential to develop behavioural and nutritional preventive therapy.