Infections during pregnancy have a negative impact upon maternal care and can trigger depression in the child

December 15, 2016
Infections during pregnancy have a negative impact upon maternal care and can trigger depression in the child . Credit: Medical University of Vienna

A viral infection in a pregnant woman not only affects her subsequent ability to provide maternal care but can also trigger depression in her offspring, which can then even extend into the next generation as a result of changes to genetic mechanisms in the brain. This is the central finding of a transgenerational study conducted at MedUni Vienna in collaboration with the Division of Neurophysiology and Neuropharmacology (Daniela Pollak) and the Division of Neonatology and Paediatric Critical Care (Angelika Berger), which has now been published in the leading journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.

The researchers were able to demonstrate the following effects in the mouse model:

  1. stimulation of the immune system, comparable with a viral infection in the pregnant mother, results in diminished maternal behaviour towards her offspring after birth.
  2. this results in the tendency for offspring to develop and
  3. that daughters in their turn are less maternal towards their own offspring, even if they suffer no infection, so that the next generation is also more likely to develop depression.

"We were therefore able to show that there is a transgenerational effect and that occur in the brain," explains Daniela Pollak, who, together with her team, is generally concerned with identifying the neurobiological bases of psychiatric illnesses, particularly depression and anxiety disorders.

Although epigenetic changes do not involve any change in the actual DNA sequence of the individual in question, changes due to external influences – such as the lack of in this case – take the form of changes in DNA methylation (modulation of the basic building blocks of the genetic material of a cell) or histone acetylation (modulation of the histone proteins). Says Pollak: "This brings about a change in the regulatory mechanisms, how the genes are read." This leads to a permanent behavioural change or development of a mental illness.

Additional studies are now required to clarify the causality – for example, whether infection of the mother in itself affects the baby's brain and is responsible for development of depression – and also what exactly happens in the mother's during . Further studies will even look at the father's behaviour.

Premature babies: deficiencies offset by a lot of physical contact

The study was conducted in collaboration with neonatologist Angelika Berger of MedUni Vienna's Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The background: It has been proven that an premature start in life – approximately one in ten children in the world is born prematurely before the 32nd week of gestation – is often associated with impaired cognitive and emotional development.

Explore further: Is predisposition for depression acquired in the womb?

More information: Marianne Ronovsky et al. Maternal immune activation transgenerationally modulates maternal care and offspring depression-like behavior, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2016.10.016

Related Stories

Is predisposition for depression acquired in the womb?

February 2, 2015
Can a person actually be born with a predisposition to depression? The Austrian Science Fund FWF is currently supporting a new project to investigate this challenging question. Specifically, a research team led by Prof. Daniela ...

Early life stressors adversely influence brain development

December 8, 2016
New brain imaging evidence was advanced in a series of presentations at the recent meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology supporting the long-held belief that stressful early life experiences, such as ...

Maternal inflammation boosts serotonin and impairs fetal brain development in mice

May 31, 2016
Fighting the flu during pregnancy sickens a pregnant woman, but it may also put the fetus at a slightly increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders like autism later in life. A new study in pregnant mice, published June ...

Gestational exposure to type of antidepressants associated with adolescent depression

April 28, 2016
A study to be published in the May 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) reports that use of certain antidepressants during pregnancy can result in offspring depression ...

Depression in pregnancy increases risk of mental health problems in children

September 28, 2016
Depression in pregnancy increases the risk of behavioural and emotional problems in children, says a new review published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Recommended for you

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.