Background Early environment is a major determinant of long-term mental health, evidenced by the relationship between early-life neglect or abuse and chronically increased vulnerability to developmental psychopathology, including major depressive disorder (MDD). Animal studies can increase understanding of environmentally mediated causal risk processes. We describe how daily deprivation of biological parenting in primate infants disrupts development of homeostatic and reward systems central to MDD. Methods Nine breeding pairs of marmoset monkeys provided control twins (CON) and early-deprived twins (ED); the latter were socially isolated for 30-120 min/day on days 2-28. During the first year of life, basal urinary norepinephrine (NE) titers and cardiophysiologic activity were measured. At the end of year 1 (adolescence), automated neuropsychologic tests were conducted to measure responsiveness to changes in stimulus-reward association (simple/reversed visual discrimination learning) and to reward per se (progressive ratio [PR] reinforcement schedule). Results The ED monkeys exhibited increased basal urinary NE titers and increased systolic blood pressure relative to CON siblings. The ED monkeys required more sessions to reinstate stimulus-oriented behavior following reversal, suggesting increased vulnerability to perceived loss of environmental control; ED monkeys also performed less PR operant responses, indicating that reward was less of an incentive and that they were mildly anhedonic relative to CON. Conclusions In marmoset monkeys, neglect-like manipulation of ED leads to chronic changes in homeostatic systems, similar to those in children and adolescents exposed to early-life adversity and in MDD, and to responses to environmental stimuli similar to those that characterize MDD.
- Allostatic load
- developmental psychopathology
- early deprivation
- nonhuman primate
- vulnerability traits