AChemS Career Networking Seminar Series

MAY 2022

Maternal odor guides infant neurobehavioral responses to help organize the world by Regina Sullivan, Ph.D and Diane Rekow, Ph.D
Maternal odor is important for modulating infant behaviors in both children and rodents. Drs. Sullivan and Rekow’s research has been defining the how maternal odor can help an infant make sense of ambiguous stimuli and gate neurobehavioral responses to specific stimuli. Both laboratories use behavior and neuroscience to tease apart maternal odor influences on infant behavior and cognition, although Dr. Rekow’s research highlights its ecological significance in human infants, while Dr. Sullivan’s research capitalizes on rodents to define mechanisms. This co-presentation emphasizes the importance of bi-directional translation across species to better inform typical and atypical child development.

Neurobiology of Maternal Odor Control Over Infant: Rodent model to define mechanisms by Regina Sullivan, Ph.D.
Altricial infants attach to their caregiver and express prosocial behavior to receive the nurturing and protection necessary for survival. Once the attachment is learned, that caregiver’s odor can gate processing of environmental threats and enhance or blunt sensory processing in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, via dopaminergic circuits and systemic stress hormone modulation.

Unraveling odor’s influence on face categorization in human infants by Diane Rekow, Ph.D.
In the first months of life, the sense of smell is more developed and reliable than sight, providing the infant with a rich olfactory environment in a blurry world. The underlying hypothesis of this work is that a meaningful odor cue, the mother’s body odor, is able to support the neural development of visual perception of social cues, such as faces. Using scalp EEG, I measure the influence of maternal odor on face categorization in infants between 4 and 12 month olds and reveal a developmental trade-off between the senses to disambiguate the environment.