Stress-Induced Changes In Maternal Stomach Can Negatively Affect Future Offsprings For Life

First Posted: Nov 16, 2016 05:29 AM EST

A new study has recently revealed that prenatal exposure to a mother's stress may contribute to anxiety and cognitive problems that may persist into adulthood. This phenomenon could be explained by the lasting and potentially damaging changes in the microbiome.

Tamar Gur, assistant professor of psychiatry, behavioral health, neuroscience and obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University, thinks the bacteria to be a particularly good medium for researching the connection between a mother and her fetus.

This is the reason why she led a team of researchers to study exactly how stress experienced by the mother during pregnancy can affect the offspring. "We already understand that prenatal stress can be bad for offspring, but the mystery is how," says Gur, who is also a member of Ohio State Wexner Medical Center's Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.

Gur explains that the microbes from a mother's gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts are the first ones to spread to the developing fetus and the newborn. As a result, gut bacteria might provide an explanation for why and how maternal stress can affect a person's mental health for their entire life, Medical News Today reported.

"More and more, doctors and researchers understand that naturally occurring bacteria are not just a silent presence in our body, but that they contribute to our health," says Gur.

For the study, the research team compared two groups of pregnant mice. One group was exposed to 2 hours of stress-inducing restraint per day for 7 days, while the other group was left undisturbed during pregnancy. The team also analyzed the gut bacteria of both groups by taking fecal samples.

Researchers said that findings revealed an increased inflammation in the placenta, the fetal brain and the adult brain of the mice's offspring. The scientists also found a decrease in a supportive protein called the "brain-derived neurotrophic factor."

According to EurekAlert, when stressed, pregnant mice showed a change in their bacterial makeup. These changes were seen in both the mothers' guts and in the placentas, as well as in the intestines of their female offspring. Bacterial changes lasted all the way into adulthood.

It is also important to note that affected adult mice "were more anxious, they spent more time in the dark, closed spaces and they had a harder time learning cognitive tasks even though they were never stressed after birth," Gur explains.

However, researchers found a lower ability to learn and behavior indicating higher levels of anxiety among the female offspring of the mice. According to Gur, the team found alterations in the behavior of male offspring as well, but the details of that part of the study are still a work in progress.

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