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Scientists have discovered the first evidence linking brain function variations between the left and right sides of the brain to size at birth and the relative weight of the placenta. The finding could shed new light on the causes of mental health problems in later life. The research, conducted at the University of Southampton and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at Southampton General Hospital, reveals that children who were born small, with relatively large placentas, showed more activity on the right side of their brains than the left. It is this pattern of brain activity that has been linked with mood disorders such as depression. The study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that adverse environments experienced by fetuses during pregnancy (indicated by smaller birth size and larger placental size) can cause long-term changes in the function of the brain. “This is the first time we’ve been able to link growth before birth to brain activity many years later,” explains epidemiologist Alexander Jones, who led the study. “We hope this research can begin to shed new light on why certain people are more prone to diseases such as depression.” [Stonehearth online newsletter, Feb. 2011] Read More

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