Do you know that infections during pregnancy may harm your baby? Well, a new study by a team of researchers has showed that infections during pregnancy may interfere with the genes linked to prenatal brain development.
If a woman picks up an infection during her pregnancy then her immune system will kick into action to clear the infection, but this self-defence mechanism may also have a small influence how her child`s brain develops in the womb, in ways that are similar to how the brain develops in autism spectrum disorders.
Now, researchers have shown why this may be the case.
Scientists at the University of Cyprus, University of Cambridge, University of California, San Diego, and Stanford University used rats and mice to help map the complex biological cascade caused by the mother`s immune response, which may lead to important consequences.
Maternal infections during pregnancy are a known risk factor for abnormal fetal development.
Most strikingly, this has been seen during the recent emergence of Zika virus, which led to babies being born with an abnormally small head and brain (known as `microcephaly`).
In the case of Zika, the virus has its impact by directly attacking fetal brain tissue. However, for most other infections, such as influenza, the infectious agent typically has a more indirect impact on fetal development.
Lead author Dr Michael Lombardo said, “It`s important to underscore that the increase in risk is really small – too small to be meaningfully applied to specific individuals, and is only seen in very large studies when examining many thousands of people”.
“Nevertheless, the biological cascade triggered by this effect is not well understood, particularly in how it may be similar to known biology behind conditions like autism. This was the motivation behind why we did the study.”
The study is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
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