Life stressors in expectant mothers could trigger neurological disorders in babies

Washington, April 23: Researchers have suggested that trauma, illness, alcohol or other drug abuse in expectant mothers could activate a single molecular trigger in brain cells that can go awry and activate conditions like schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or autism in their babies.

Past studies have shown that when an expectant mother exposes herself to alcohol or drug abuse or she experiences some trauma or illness, her baby may later develop a psychiatric disorder, including some forms of autism or post-traumatic stress disorder, later in life.

But the new findings identify a molecular mechanism in the prenatal brain that may help explain how cells go awry when exposed to certain environmental conditions.

Lead author Kazue Hasimoto-Torii, PhD, Principal Investigator of the Center for Neuroscience, Children’s National Health System, and a Scott-Gentle Foundation investigator and his team found that mouse embryos exposed to alcohol, methyl-mercury, or maternal seizures activate a single gene, HSF1, also known as heat shock factor, in cerebral cortex.

The HSF1 “plays a crucial role in the response of brain cells to prenatal environmental insults,” the researchers reported. “The gene protects and enables brain cells to survive prenatal assaults. Mice lacking the HSF1 gene showed structural brain abnormalities and were prone to seizures after birth following exposures to very low levels of toxins.”

Even in mice where the HSF1 gene was properly activated to combat environmental insults, the molecular mechanism alone may permanently change how brain cells respond, and may be a reason why someone may be more susceptible to neuropsychiatric disorders later in life.

The new findings have been published online in the journal Neuron. (ANI)