Stress during pregnancy linked to autism

Scientists have revealed that mothers who suffer from stress while they are pregnant could be having a serious impact on the development of their unborn children. They also found that the impact of maternal stress can differ depending on whether the child is male or female.

The stress has been linked to neuronal development associated with autism and schizophrenia which tend to be more prevalent in males than females.

Researchers at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine have conducted a series of tests on pregnant mice in order to establish if there are markers of stress that are transferred to the unborn foetus.

The researchers subjected mice to mild stressors including the smell of a fox or unfamiliar noises during the first week of pregnancy. They then identified that a particular enzyme in the placenta of the mice was directly impacted. Levels of the enzyme called OGT were significantly lower in the placentas of stressed mice than unstressed mice.

Further research has indicated that reducing the levels of the OGT enzyme in the placenta subsequently has an impact on 370 genes in the brains of the unborn mice. Many of these genes have been identified as playing critical roles in neurological development, determining critical functions such as how the brain uses energy, how it regulates protein and how it creates nerve cell connections.

The findings have been transferred to humans by evaluating the levels of OGT in discarded placentas after the birth of human children. It has been found that the placenta of male babies naturally has a lower level of OGT putting them at a greater risk of neuronal damage if their mother is exposed to stress during her pregnancy.

This research shows the importance of stress management, Mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease the impact of stress on the human body making it less susceptible to illness. It could be the expectant mothers and women who are trying to get pregnant would benefit from learning some mindfulness techniques.

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