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Increased Inflammation in Mothers During Pregnancy Linked to Decreased Maturity in Baby’s Brain Wiring

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Weakened neural connections similar to those associated with psychiatric problems in adults

Increased inflammation in pregnant women, which can be triggered, for example, by exposure to stress or infection, may shape the development of their child’s brain, according to a study released November 17 at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

“Previous research h as suggested that many of the alterations in brain structure and connectivity associated with neuropsychiatric disorders can be traced back to conditions in the womb,” said lead author Claudia Buss, PhD, of Charité – University Medicine Berlin. “Our research demonstrates that a specific elevated immune response experienced by some women during pregnancy may affect key aspects of the child’s brain development.”

Buss and her colleagues analyzed blood samples collected from 58 mothers in early, mid - , and late pregnancy to determine their levels of the cytokine interleukin - 6 (IL - 6), a protein that stimulates the body’s immune response to infections and stress. Then, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, the researchers acquired brain scans of the women’s newborns du ring natural sleep to detect and measure brain activity patterns.

An analysis of the data revealed that IL - 6 concentrations during pregnancy, particularly during early pregnancy, predicted weaker connections between specific regions of the newborns’ brains. These weaker connections were similar to those that have been previously associated with psychiatric problems in adults. The study’s findings may one day lead to the development of diagnostic and treatment approaches to detect, prevent, and reduce the likelihood of mental health problems in at - risk individuals.

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Society for Neuroscience press release