This study investigated the effects of different rearing conditions on neural and cognitive development of male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Infants raised individually in a nursery from 2 to 12 months of age (NURSERY, n=9) were compared to age-matched infants raised in a semi-naturalistic, social environment (CONTROL, n=11). Various brain regions were measured by MRI. Although overall brain volumes did not differ between NURSERY and CONTROL animals, corpus callosum (CC) size, measured in mid-sagittal sections, was significantly decreased in the NURSERY group. Group differences were most evident in the posterior aspects of the corpus callosum and appeared to result from changes in the number of cross-hemispheric projections rather than from a decrease in cortical gray matter volume. The decrease in corpus callosum size in the NURSERY animals persisted after 6 months of social housing in a peer-group. Rearing group differences were not found in other structures analyzed, including the hippocampus, cerebellum and anterior commissure. In cognitive testing, NURSERY animals had more difficulty acquiring the delayed non-matching to sample (DNMS) task, but showed no deficits in subsequent memory performance when a 2 or 10 min delay was imposed. The NURSERY infant monkeys were also impaired in object, but not in spatial, reversal learning, although there were no differences in a simple object discrimination task. The cognitive deficits exhibited by the NURSERY animals were significantly correlated with the alterations found in the CC. In summary, rearing environment was associated with sustained differences in cross-hemispheric projections, white matter volume and cognitive performance.
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