This research examines the impact of early nutrition on the cognitive aspects and brain mechanisms of signal processing. Early nutritional deficit is known to impair cognition in humans and animals by constraining neural growth. Signal processing is essential to sociality and is dependent upon three specific cognitive abilities which are likely mediated by separate though interconnected regions of the brain: attention to stimuli, perception of meaningful variation among signals, and memorization and subsequent recognition of familiar signals. Therefore, early nutritional deficit could impair signal processing by constraining the developent and function of brain centers that mediate attention, perception and/or recognition. The proposed research distinguishes among these three hypotheses by manipulating early nutrition in an animal model, zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), and comparing nutritionally deprived and control subjects'(1) motivation to attend to stimuli and signal processing behavior through operant tasks, (2) neural activity in signal processing brain centers, as measured by immediate early gene expression and (3) neuron density and volume of signal processing I brain regions. Previous stuides in animal models and clinical studies in humans suggest that early nutritional deficit impairs specific aspects of cognition rather than having general effects on attention. Therefore, early nutritional deficit likely impairs signal processing by constraining the development of brain regions that mediate signal preception and/or memorization. Relevance: This research is directly relevant to human mental health because a number of human social disorders, including autism and schizophrenia, are marked by difficulty processing social cues and early nutrition is implicated in the etiology of these conditions. This work examines the relationship between early nutritional deficit and abnormal sociality rooted in impaired signal processing, a major issue in human mental health.
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