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Creators/Authors contains: "Krol, Kathleen M."

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  1. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Background How the brain develops accurate models of the external world and generates appropriate behavioral responses is a vital question of widespread multidisciplinary interest. It is increasingly understood that brain signal variability—posited to enhance perception, facilitate flexible cognitive representations, and improve behavioral outcomes—plays an important role in neural and cognitive development. The ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to complex and dynamic social information is particularly critical for the development of adaptive learning and behavior. Social perception relies on oxytocin-regulated neural networks that emerge early in development. Methods We tested the hypothesis that individual differences in the endogenous oxytocinergic system early in life may influence social behavioral outcomes by regulating variability in brain signaling during social perception. In study 1, 55 infants provided a saliva sample at 5 months of age for analysis of individual differences in the oxytocinergic system and underwent electroencephalography (EEG) while listening to human vocalizations at 8 months of age for the assessment of brain signal variability. Infant behavior was assessed via parental report. In study 2, 60 infants provided a saliva sample and underwent EEG while viewing faces and objects and listening to human speech and water sounds at 4 months of age. Infant behavior was assessed via parental report and eye tracking. Results We show in two independent infant samples that increased brain signal entropy during social perception is in part explained by an epigenetic modification to the oxytocin receptor gene ( OXTR ) and accounts for significant individual differences in social behavior in the first year of life. These results are measure-, context-, and modality-specific: entropy, not standard deviation, links OXTR methylation and infant behavior; entropy evoked during social perception specifically explains social behavior only; and only entropy evoked during social auditory perception predicts infant vocalization behavior. Conclusions Demonstrating these associations in infancy is critical for elucidating the neurobiological mechanisms accounting for individual differences in cognition and behavior relevant to neurodevelopmental disorders. Our results suggest that an epigenetic modification to the oxytocin receptor gene and brain signal entropy are useful indicators of social development and may hold potential diagnostic, therapeutic, and prognostic value. 
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  2. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Forming an impression of another person is an essential aspect of human social cognition linked to medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) function in adults. The current study examined the neurodevelopmental origins of impression formation by testing the hypothesis that infants rely on processes localized in mPFC when forming impressions about individuals who appear friendly or threatening. Infants’ brain responses were measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy while watching 4 different face identities displaying either smiles or frowns directed toward or away from them (N = 77). This was followed by a looking preference test for these face identities (now displaying a neutral expression) using eyetracking. Our results show that infants’ mPFC responses distinguish between smiling and frowning faces when directed at them and that these responses predicted their subsequent person preferences. This suggests that the mPFC is involved in impression formation in human infants, attesting to the early ontogenetic emergence of brain systems supporting person perception and adaptive behavior. 
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  3. Abstract

    The early development of threat perception in infancy might be dependent on caregiver context, but this link has not yet been studied in human infants. This study examined the emergence of the young infant's response to threat in the context of variations in caregiving behavior. Eighty infant‐caregiver dyads (39 female infants, all of western European descent) visited the laboratory when the infant was 5 months old. Each dyad completed a free‐play task, from which we coded for the mother's level of engagement: the amount of talking, close proximity, positive affect, and attention directed toward the infant. When the infant was 7 months old, they came back to the laboratory and we used functional near infrared spectroscopy and eye tracking to measure infants’ neural and attentional responses to threatening angry faces. In response to threat, infants of more‐engaged mothers showed increased brain responses in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—a brain region associated with emotion regulation and cognitive control among adults—and reduced attentional avoidance. These results point to a role for caregiver behavioral context in the early development of brain systems involved in human threat responding.

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  4. The contribution of nature versus nurture to the development of human behavior has been debated for centuries. Here, we offer a piece to this complex puzzle by identifying the human endogenous oxytocin system—known for its critical role in mammalian sociality—as a system sensitive to its early environment and subject to epigenetic change. Recent animal work suggests that early parental care is associated with changes in DNA methylation of conserved regulatory sites within the oxytocin receptor gene ( OXTR m). Through dyadic modeling of behavior and OXTR m status across the first year and a half of life, we translated these findings to 101 human mother-infant dyads. We show that OXTR m is dynamic in infancy and its change is predicted by maternal engagement and reflective of behavioral temperament. We provide evidence for an early window of environmental epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin system, facilitating the emergence of individual differences in human behavior. 
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