Stress during pregnancy may affect the development of childhood diseases

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found that stress in an expectant mother may affect the likelihood of her child developing disease. Psychosocial stressors, such as lack of social support, loneliness, family status or bereavement, can cause a baby's mitochondrial DNA to mutate and be a precursor to many diseases. The findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

To study the effects of maternal stress on genetic mutations, scientists sequenced the placental mitochondrial genome and identified mutations in 365 samples. They found that women who experienced increased psychosocial stress had more genetic mutations in the placenta.

The study's lead author, Kelly Brunst, associate professor of environmental science and public health at the University of Cincinnati Research, believes there are many conditions that begin in childhood that are linked to mitochondrial dysfunction, including asthma, obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism. And the period of fetal and infant development is the most vulnerable time for environmental effects on the body. Programmatic effects resulting from environmental changes occur over time and likely begin at the molecular and cellular level during pregnancy. These shifts alter the physiological state and play a role in the development of adverse health outcomes.

Jan. 14, 2021, 11:01 a.m.

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