Studies in non-human mammals have identified olfactory signals as prime mediators of mother-infant bonding and they have been linked with maternal attitudes and behavior in our own species as well. However, although the neuronal network processing infant cues has been studied for visual and auditory signals; to date, no such information exists for chemosensory signals. We contrasted the cerebral activity underlying the processing of infant odor properties in 15 women newly given birth for the first time and 15 women not given birth while smelling the body odor of unfamiliar 2 day-old newborn infants. Maternal status-dependent activity was demonstrated in the thalamus when exposed to the body odor of a newly born infant. Subsequent regions of interest analyses indicated that dopaminergic neostriatal areas are active in maternal-dependent responses. Taken together, these data suggests that body odors from 2 day-old newborns elicit activation in reward-related cerebral areas in women, regardless of their maternal status. These tentative data suggests that certain body odors might act as a catalyst for bonding mechanisms and highlights the need for future research on odor-dependent mother-infant bonding using parametric designs controlling for biological saliency and general odor perception effects.
Keywords: body odor, bonding, fMRI, neonatal, reward
Citation: Lundström JN, Mathe A, Schaal B, Frasnelli J, Nitzsche K, Gerber J and Hummel T (2013) Maternal status regulates cortical responses to the body odor of newborns. Front. Psychol. 4:597. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00597
Received: 16 April 2013; Paper pending published: 06 June 2013;
Accepted: 18 August 2013; Published online: 05 September 2013.
Edited by:Gesualdo M. Zucco, University of Padova, Italy
Reviewed by:Harold H. Greene, University of Detroit Mercy, USA
Copyright © 2013 Lundström, Mathe, Schaal, Frasnelli, Nitzsche, Gerber and Hummel. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Johan N. Lundström, Monell Chemical Senses Center, 3500 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org