One of the most vastly studied areas in terms of pregnancy is the effects of the external environment, and consequently the internal environment, on fetal development. Whether researchers are looking at vitamin intake, stress, hormones or immunity, one thing is clear across all studies: a mother's life while pregnant has a major impact on their child's development.
Looking at immunity alone, new research suggests that staying healthy while pregnant, despite a suppressed immune system, is a lot more important than you might think. Research was done using both humans and animals observing the effects of infections on a developing fetus. The result deemed both interesting and a bit concerning.
In the study, which was published in the scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry, it was shown that infections play a serious role in undermining fetal brain development. In fact, severe infections were shown to have a link to later psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and autism, for those children subjected in utero.
In terms of the science behind the study, it was seen that infections can hinder stem and precursor cell development in the brain, and ultimately neuronal cells. What this means is that there is a risk of cognitive impairment when a developing brain is exposed to infection and the mother's immune response. The researchers from Copenhagen found specifically that "the development of cortical GABAergic interneurons-- the key neuronal class that provides inhibition in the brain-- was impaired," reports ScienceDaily.
The team of researchers also observed that the timing the infection presents itself plays a huge part in how much neural damage is done. The most rapid brain development, and therefore the most sensitive period to subject an unborn baby to infection, occurs at the beginning of pregnancy. Depending on what is developing if/when an infection presents itself can determine what issues may arise later in life for that child.
More research needs to be done in the area, but researchers are hoping to determine which psychiatric disorders are linked to which brain cells getting affected due to infection. By determining that, they'll be one step closer to understanding the causes and treatments of major psychiatric impairments.