Infections like the flu are common during pregnancy. Research shows that children born to mothers who had the flu or other infections during pregnancy have a higher risk for schizophrenia. A new study out of Temple University examines what’s behind that link.
Most infections don’t cross the placenta – so researchers were trying to find out why and how a fetus could be affected when mom gets the flu. The new findings take them a step closer to understanding the connection. When a pregnant woman has an infection, her immune system produces certain proteins in response. The study found that some of these proteins can lead to increased risk for brain abnormalities associated with schizophrenia in the developing fetus. Lauren Ellman of Temple University’s department of psychology says that’s not the only factor though:
Ellman: There has to be some kind of predisposition to schizophrenia in order for there to be damage to the brain from some of these infections, or immune responses to infections. So one of the things I’m interested in is looking at specific genes that might make the fetal brain more susceptible
Ellman says the findings have implications for healthcare during pregnancy, and highlight the importance of prenatal doctors’ visits and flu vaccines for expectant moms.