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From the article:
Blood drawn from mothers during their third trimester was tested for levels of IL-6 and CRP – two proteins that are found at higher levels when the immune system is activated. Peterson’s team also monitored fetal heart rate as an indicator for nervous system development. The team found that CRP did correlate with variability of the fetal heart rate, which is influenced heavily by the nervous system, indicating that maternal inflammation was already beginning to shape brain development.
When the babies were born, they were given MRI scans in their first few weeks of life, providing researchers a unique view of early neural development and the influence of prenatal factors. Brain imaging revealed a striking finding – significant changes in the communication between specific brain regions correlated with elevated maternal IL-6 and CRP levels. These brain regions are known collectively as the salience network, whose job is to filter stimuli coming into the brain and determine which deserve attention.
“The salience network sifts through that information and decides what is important and warrants action.” Disturbances in the functioning of this network, as well as various kind of infection and other triggers of a pregnant woman’s immune response, have been linked to development of psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders.
The correlations of elevated maternal inflammatory markers were not limited to the newborn period, but continued to persist into toddlerhood. When the babies turned 14 months of age, researchers assessed them for motor skills, language development, and behavior. Following the established Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development-Third Edition, Peterson found significant changes in the scores of toddlers born to mothers with elevated levels of both IL-6 and CRP.