Prenatal development is defined as the process through which an embryo grows into a fetus during the gestation period in the womb. The development begins from fertilization, the primary stage of embryogenesis, and continues until birth of the baby.

Poverty, mother's age, drug usage, alcohol consumption, smoking, diseases, physical health and diet, depression, toxins from the environment, and low weight gain during pregnancy are various factors that affect the prenatal development of a fetus.

Infections During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, if a mother suffers from any kind of infection, then her immune system helps in eradicating the infection. In cases like these, the defense mechanism of the mother's immune system may become harmful for the child's brain development.

A study conducted by the researchers from University of Cambridge, University of Cyprus, and University of California, San Diego, and Stanford University explains the effects of infection on the development of the child.

The researchers used mice and rats to understand the intricate biological flow, which is due to the reactions of the mother's immune system. This may later lead to other severe consequences.

During the research, the team injected pregnant rats with lipopolysaccharide, which, although non-infectious, draw out a strong immune response from the mother with an increase in cytokine levels. Cytokines are proteins secreted by certain cells and are important in cell signaling.

This was done to observe how a pregnant woman's immune system can affect the brain development of her baby.

What The Team Found

The scientists discovered that the activation of the mother's immune system causes changes in the activity of varied genes in the brain of the fetus.

The cause of concern is that these genes, whose pathways and activity were altered by the mother's immune system, are very important and are said to play a pivotal role in the development of autism before birth. These genes are also responsible for development of major brain processes before birth.

The effects due to the commencement of maternal immune system are transitory, but researchers believe that it may have a strong effect at the time of fetal development.

"The more we understand about how brain development is disrupted by these effects, the higher the chance of finding amenable targets for potential therapeutic intervention or for informing how to prevent such risk from occurring in the first place," stated Dr. Tiziano Pramparo the senior author of the study.

The study has been published online in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Photo: Vanessa Porter | Flickr

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