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Using cross-species comparisons and a neurobiological framework to understand early social deprivation effects on behavioral development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 May 2015

Zoë H. Brett
Tulane University School of Medicine
Kathryn L. Humphreys
Tulane University School of Medicine
Alison S. Fleming
University of Toronto
Gary W. Kraemer
University of Toronto
Stacy S. Drury*
Tulane University School of Medicine
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Stacy S. Drury, Tulane University School of Medicine, 1430 Tulane Avenue, 8055, New Orleans, LA 70112; E-mail:


Building upon the transactional model of brain development, we explore the impact of early maternal deprivation on neural development and plasticity in three neural systems: hyperactivity/impulsivity, executive function, and hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis functioning across rodent, nonhuman primate, and human studies. Recognizing the complexity of early maternal–infant interactions, we limit our cross-species comparisons to data from rodent models of artificial rearing, nonhuman primate studies of peer rearing, and the relations between these two experimental approaches and human studies of children exposed to the early severe psychosocial deprivation associated with institutional care. In addition to discussing the strengths and limitations of these paradigms, we present the current state of research on the neurobiological impact of early maternal deprivation and the evidence of sensitive periods, noting methodological challenges. Integrating data across preclinical animal models and human studies, we speculate about the underlying biological mechanisms; the differential impact of deprivation due to temporal factors including onset, offset, and duration of the exposure; and the possibility and consequences of reopening of sensitive periods during adolescence.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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