Transitions in sensitive period attachment learning in infancy: the role of corticosterone

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2010 May;34(6):835-44. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2009.11.010. Epub 2009 Nov 29.


Survival of altricial infants, including humans and rats, depends on attachment to the caregiver - a process that requires infants to recognize, learn, and remember their attachment figure. The demands of a dynamic environment combined with a maturing organism require frequent neurobehavioral reorganization. This restructuring of behavior and its supporting neural circuitry can be viewed through the unique lens of attachment learning in rats in which preference learning is enhanced and aversion learning is attenuated. Behavioral restructuring is well adapted to securing the crucial infant-caregiver relationship regardless of the quality of care. With maturation and the end of the infant-caregiver attachment learning period, the complex interplay of neural structures, hormones, and social behavior coordinates the developing rat's eventual transition to life outside of the nest. Nevertheless, early-life environmental and physiological stressors can alter the resilient nature of this system, particularly with respect to the amygdala, and these changes may provide important clues to understanding the lasting effects of early stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Corticosterone / metabolism*
  • Critical Period, Psychological*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Corticosterone