Mar. 4, 2013 —
Science Daily/University of Pennsylvania
The mammalian placenta is more than just a filter through which nutrition and oxygen are passed from a mother to her unborn child. According to a new study by a research group from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, if a mother is exposed to stress during pregnancy, her placenta translates that experience to her fetus by altering levels of a protein that affects the developing brains of male and female offspring differently.
These findings suggest one way in which maternal-stress exposure may be linked to neurodevelopmental diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, which affect males more frequently or more severely than females.
"Most everything experienced by a woman during a pregnancy has to interact with the placenta in order to transmit to the fetus," said Tracy L. Bale, senior author on the paper and an associate professor in the Department of Animal Biology at Penn Vet. "Now we have a marker that appears to signal to the fetus that its mother has experienced stress."