Mothers Can Pass on Stress to Infants


A mother’s Stress Leads to Changes in Her Baby’s Brain


A paper presented to the Society for Neuroscience at its annual meeting showed that a mother’s stress leads to changes in her offspring’s brain; this can eventually affect the baby’s physiology and behavior. According to The Scientist, 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. The findings have come from a long-term series of experiments of mothers and their newborn babies.

IL-6 stimulates 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 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 annual meeting in Washington, DC.

In related research, scientists 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 researchers 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 —may be linked to psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression.

— Vimala McClure