APR 10, 2018 5:54 AM PDT

Prenatal Stress in Mothers Can Change Baby's Brain Connectivity

When a baby is in the womb, it's in almost constant development. From growing in size, to sprouting limbs and beginning to move, it's a busy time. Brain development is going at a breakneck pace as well.

Once a baby is born, he or she has to know how to recognize mom, root for food and cry when something is wrong. New research conducted at Wayne State University shows that stress during pregnancy will impact the brain of the fetus in a significant way. The brain is all about connectivity. Neurons have to transmit signals 24/7 so gaps in connectivity can cause a host of issues in a baby. 

Moriah Thomason of Wayne State University presented the work recently at the 25th meeting for the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in Boston, MA. She stated, "It has long been thought that the stress of a mother during her pregnancy may imprint on the brain of her developing child. Despite the clear importance of this time frame, we presently possess very little understanding of how functional macroscale neural networks build during this precious time in human life or the relevance of this to future human health and development."

Until recent imaging technology became more advanced, it was difficult to research with children prenatally, but now functional MRI scans (fMRI) can be done while a baby is still in utero. The fMRI scan is a perfect tool for this kind of research since it can document connectivity in the brain rather than just structural components of brain tissue. 

Scans were carried out on 47 fetuses. Mothers for the study were recruited in areas that have low resources and are also located in high-stress urban regions. Many of the study moms reported having issues with moderate to severe depression, anxiety, and stress. The scans were done between 30 and 37 weeks of gestation. 

The scans and the information on the mothers matched significantly. Mothers who reported the highest levels of stress also had the lowest amount of connectivity in the brains of their babies. It's the first study that has been able to directly connect stress during pregnancy with actual prenatal fetal development changes. 

So where in the brain were these changes seen? The cerebellum was the region of the brain that seemed most lacking in connectivity. This part of the brain contains the highest concentration of glucocorticoid receptors. These receptors are part of the complex mechanism of stress, and the team hopes to look further at this area in future research. Thomason explained that the scans were also able to show that the brain develops its network first, and then begins to develop motor and cognitive skills. Connectivity is the only way the brain can work efficiently. 

While it was a complicated process to coordinate scheduling expectant mothers and to get scans when the babies were not busy kicking up a storm, the work is important because it shows that the fetal environment before birth is very much affected by the outside environment of the mother. The video below has more information. 

Sources: Cognitive Neuroscience Society, Romper

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
NOV 23, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 23, 2019
Drug Seeks To Target Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy
Ever imagined a world where you cannot shower alone, drive by yourself, and even go to work in fear of having the next seizure that can incapacitate you? U...
DEC 01, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 01, 2019
Are teens addicted to their phones?
Journalists quickly jumped to the conclusion that 23% of teenagers are addicted to their smartphones thanks to findings from a new study from King’s ...
DEC 29, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 29, 2019
How close are we to a simple blood test for Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) alters nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Famously regarded as the “happiness”...
JAN 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 17, 2020
Soybean Oil Found to Change Gene Expression in the Brain
Soybean oil is used for frying and for making foods like margarine and salad dressing. It's the most commonly produced and consumed edible oil in the US....
FEB 06, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
FEB 06, 2020
Concussion detector could pick up concussions in athletes, right from the sidelines
Concussions are brain traumas caused by a blow to the head or a whiplash injury. The risk of concussions are greatly heightened in athletes playing high co...
FEB 12, 2020
Health & Medicine
FEB 12, 2020
Brain Patients are Advancing Research
Neuroscientists may face the challenge of not having enough material or high-quality material to study the condition they’re researching. Luckily&mda...
Loading Comments...