A new study from the John Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore discovered that fetal mice who were exposed to an overactive maternal immune system showed signs of brain damage well into adulthood. Published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, the researchers believe their findings could be a model for human neurological diseases like schizophrenia and autism.
They found that male mice who were exposed to an overactive maternal immune system had fewer nerve cells in their brains, a smaller hippocampus - the area in the brain responsible for memory and spatial navigation- and had a type of immune cell that was not supposed to present in the brain.
There were two groups in the study. The first group of maternal mice had their wombs injected with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a toxin that produces inflammatory effects similar to E. coli bacteria. The second group was the control group and had their wombs injected with a saline solution.
The researchers found that 60 days after weaning, the offspring of the LPS group could walk well but showed hyperactivity.
Dr. Irina Burd, assistant professor of gynecology/obstetrics and neurology at Johns Hopkins, says that sex-specific differences were also found in adulthood.
Dr. Burd says, “Our research suggests that in mice, males may be more vulnerable to the effects of maternal inflammation than females, and the impact may be life long. Now we wonder if this could explain why more males have diseases such as autism and schizophrenia, which appear to have neurobiological causes.”
The reasoning for the sexual differences exposes a new route for research. Burd notes that solving this mystery could provide the knowledge necessary for developing interventions and new drug therapies.