The quality of the social environment can have profound influences on the development and activity of neural systems with implications for numerous behavioral and physiological responses, including the expression of emotionality. Though social experiences occurring early in development may be particularly influential on the developing brain, there is continued plasticity within these neural circuits amongst juveniles and into early adulthood. In this review, we explore the evidence derived from studies in rodents which illustrates the social modulation during development of neural systems, with a particular emphasis on those systems in which a long-term effect is observed. One possible explanation for the persistence of dynamic changes in these systems in response to the environment is the involvement of epigenetic mechanisms, and here we discuss recent studies which support the role of these mechanisms in mediating the link between social experiences, gene expression, neurobiological changes, and behavioral variation. This literature raises critical questions about the interaction between neural systems, the concordance between neural and behavioral changes, sexual dimorphism in effects, the importance of considering individual differences in response to the social environment, and the potential of an epigenetic perspective in advancing our understanding of the pathways leading to variations in mental health.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry