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article imageMothers can pass on stress to infants

By Tim Sandle     Nov 30, 2014 in Science
Washington - A mother's stress could lead to changes in her offspring’s brains. This can eventually affect the physiology and behavior of the young.
The findings have come from a long-term series of experiments of mothers and their newborn babies, according to The Scientist. With this, researchers discovered that increased production of the cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) in a woman can lead to alterations in the brain connectivity of her offspring. This was based on measurements of levels of IL-6 in maternal blood samples. The samples were taken early in pregnancy, in the middle, and near the end, then performed MRI scans of the newborns shortly after birth.
The paper presented recently to the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting.
IL-6 is secreted by T cells and macrophages to stimulate immune response, such as during infection and after trauma, especially burns or other tissue damage leading to inflammation. Inflammation is a protective reaction that aids in the quick repair and regeneration of damaged brain cells. If it continues for too long, however, inflammation does more harm than good, damaging neurons and contributing to brain disorders such as depression, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and certain types of fatigue.
The data suggests, the research brief notes, that the biochemical measurements were not a product of post-birth events, but rather passed from mother to child.
The study was led by Claudia Buss of the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the University of California, Irvine. The findings were presented to the recent Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting in Washington, DC.
In related research, scientists based at Duke University uncovered evidence in mice that maternal diet, which is linked to inflammation, can cause inflammatory and behavior changes in offspring. Here, the science group found that a mother's high-fat diet—which can lead to inflammation in the body’s adipose tissue as well as immune changes in brain that may be linked to psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.
To show this, scientists fed mice either a low-fat diet or a high-fat diet, either enriched or not enriched for branched cain amino acids (BCAAs). Looking at the mothers’ brains midway through pregnancy, the team found increased expression of inflammatory cytokines in the hypothalami of mice fed a high-fat diet.
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