Is the stress system hyperactive in single mothers?

Is the stress system hyperactive in single mothers?

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Excessive stress system activity in single mothers

Single parents are often faced with special challenges in everyday life, which often cause stress. In addition, the fact that there is no intact family structure seems to lead to an excessive activity of the stress system - at least in mice. In a recent study, scientists from the University of Regensburg and Emory University in Atlanta (USA) found that single vole mothers are more anxious and passive because they have excessive stress system activity in their brains.

The research team headed by Professor Dr. In his current study on prairie voles, Oliver Bosch from the Chair of Animal Physiology and Neurobiology at the University of Regensburg examined how the changed family structure affects animal behavior and which processes in the brain are responsible for these effects. Lone mothers were therefore more passive and fearful in their behavior, which the researchers attribute to a special messenger substance that is increasingly produced when the stress system is over-active. The scientists also see their study results as relevant to humans. The study was published in the specialist magazine "Behavioral Brain Research".

Challenges for single parents many times higher

"Raising your own offspring in an intact family structure is not always an easy task" and "without a partner, the challenges for the mother are many times higher", the scientists explain. This also applies to prairie voles, which normally live in solid, monogamous relationships, in which both partners are equally responsible for raising the offspring. If the vole father leaves the family, the vole mother shows no changes to the outside world, according to the researchers, and continues to care intensely and passionately for the young. However, there seem to be changes on an emotional level.

More fearful and passive behavior

Like single parents, the single vole mother tries to give her offspring security and security, although the whole situation can be emotionally stressful for her. Among the vole mothers, this can be seen in more fearful and passive behavior, the scientists report. This is caused by an excessive activity of the stress system in your brain, in which the associated messenger substance "corticotropin-releasing factor" is synthesized excessively - a sign of chronic stress.

Results also relevant to people

Together with Prof. Dr. Inga Neumann from the University of Regensburg and Prof. Larry Young from Emory University were able to Bosch has also shown in further experiments that the blockage of the associated binding sites in the brain normalizes the changed emotionality of the abandoned vole mothers. According to Prof. Bosch, “these results are definitely relevant for humans.” The messenger substance identified is associated with increased fear and passivity, which are parameters for depression.

If the results of the study are transferable to humans, single parents may be more prone to psychological problems due to the excessive activity of the stress system. There could also be a connection with the increased risk of illness for single parents, which has already been documented in previous studies. Intact family structures seem to offer a clear advantage here. However, life in a partnership is not automatically synonymous with intact family structures and sometimes it can also reduce stress if a stressful partnership is ended. (fp)

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