Overweight pregnancy results in brain disorders in the child, and in the long-term threatens dementia

Problems with thinking in adulthood may be related to the excess weight of the mother during pregnancy, a conclusion reached by scientists at New York University. Studies of the brain of children in the mother's womb have helped to find a connection between future maternal overweight and neuronal activity reduction in critical areas of the fetus' brain. 

A total of 109 women aged six to nine months of pregnancy with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 47 kg/m2 participated in the experiment. By body mass index, we mean the value that makes it possible to estimate the ratio of a person's weight to height. Normally, BMI should be 18.5-25. An indicator above 25 indicates excess weight, while an indicator above 30 indicates obesity. 

The experts carried out an MRI scan of the fetal brain: they studied the activity of nerve cells in different parts of the brain and the presence of neuronal connections. In total, experts identified 16 significant subgroups of neurons in children's brains and over 19 thousand connections between groups of neurons. It was found out that two of the found subgroups are closely related to the mother's body mass index - neuronal accumulation in the prefrontal cortex and islet lobe. In obese women, there was a decrease in nerve cell activity in these areas and a smaller number of interneuronal connections. 

The islet lobe is the area of the brain responsible for the formation of consciousness and emotions, and the prefrontal cortex is involved in the planning of complex cognitive behavior, personality manifestations, decision-making, and the regulation of social behavior. Violations in these areas in childhood cause hyperactivity, autism, a tendency to overeat, and in adulthood increase the risk of dementia. 

- The results of our study confirm that maternal obesity can play a role in fetal brain development," explains one of the authors of the study, Dr. Moria Thomason. This may explain some of the cognitive and metabolic health problems observed in children born to mothers with higher BMI. 

Aug. 11, 2020, 11:13 a.m.

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