Maternal Infection, Inflammation during Pregnancy Linked to Baby's Risk for Schizophrenia

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Sarah Canetta, Ph.D. - Brain and behavior research expert on schizophrenia
Sarah Canetta, Ph.D.

Researchers have long known that women who get an infection such as the flu while pregnant have a slightly increased chance that their baby will develop schizophrenia in adulthood. However, because so many different types of infections, from bacteria to viruses to parasites, all increase the offspring's risk of schizophrenia, researchers think that activation of the immune system in general—rather than the specific pathogen causing the infection—is responsible. A new study, based on a large sample of people in Finland and published online June 27th in The American Journal of Psychiatry, strengthens this idea, and adds to the ever-growing pile of evidence implicating the immune system in schizophrenia.

The results are the latest findings from the Finnish Prenatal Studies, a large project that collected blood samples from all pregnant women who gave birth in Finland from 1983-1998, and followed the health of the infants all the way into adulthood. A team of researchers from Columbia University including 2013 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee Sarah E. Canetta, Ph.D., and former NARSAD Grantees Christoph Kellendonk, Ph.D., (2002 and 2008) and Andre Leif Sourander, M.D., (2008) has tapped into this wealth of data to investigate the link between inflammation and schizophrenia.

The researchers found that, compared to the blood from moms whose offspring did not develop schizophrenia, the blood from the women whose progeny were later diagnosed with schizophrenia had higher levels of an inflammatory protein. Although not definitive proof, these results strongly suggest that higher levels of maternal inflammation during pregnancy are somehow involved in the development of some cases of schizophrenia, and may have implications for treatment and prevention of the illness.

Read more about this research on the Schizophrenia Research Forum.

Read the abstract for this research paper.

Article comments

Interesting. I've read there are virtually no cases I'd rheumatoid arthritis among schizophrenics. One don has schizoaffective disorder with a strong immune system and the other son has ankylosing spondylitis and asthma with no mental illness. Wonder about the connection or inversion of the same gene ....?

Will this be offered again? Or, archived?

. There are increasing evidences that favor the prenatal beginning of schizophrenia. These evidences point toward intra-uterine environmental factors that act specifically during the second pregnancy trimester producing a direct damage of the brain of the fetus. The current available technology doesn't allow observing what is happening at cellular level since the human brain it is not exposed to a direct analysis in that stage of the life. In 1977 we began a direct electron microscopic research of the brain of fetuses of schizophrenic mothers in order to finding differences at cellular level in relation to controls. In these studies we have observed within the nuclei of neurons the presence of complete and incomplete viral particles that reacted in positive form with antibodies to herpes simplex hominis type I [HSV1] virus, and mitochondria alterations. The importance of these findings can have practical applications in the prevention of the illness keeping in mind its direct relation to the aetiology and physiopathology of schizophrenia. A study of amniotic fluid cells in women at risk of having a schizophrenic offspring is considered. Of being observed the same alterations that those observed previously in the cells of the brain of the studied foetuses, it would intend to these women in risk of having a schizophrenia descendant, previous information of the results, the voluntary medical interruption of the pregnancy or an early anti HSV1 viral treatment as preventive measure of the later development of the illness.

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