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Brain Behav Immun. 2008 Jan;22(1):42-51. Epub 2007 Aug 22.

Prenatal stress, fetal imprinting and immunity.

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  • 1INRA, UMR1079, Systèmes d'Elevage, Nutrition Animale et Humaine, F-35590 Saint Gilles, France.


A comprehensive number of epidemiological and animal studies suggests that prenatal and early life events are important determinants for disorders later in life. Among them, prenatal stress (i.e. stress experienced by the pregnant mother with impact on the fetal ontogeny) has programming effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis, brain neurotransmitter systems and cognitive abilities of the offspring. This review focuses on the impact of maternal stress during gestation on the immune function in the offspring. It compares results from different animal species and highlights potential mechanisms for the immune effects of prenatal stress, including maternal glucocorticoids and placental functions. The existence of possible windows of increased vulnerability of the immune system to prenatal stress during gestation is discussed. Several gaps in the present knowledge are pointed out, especially concerning the time when prenatal stress effects are expressed during postnatal life, why this expression is delayed after birth and whether prenatal stress predisposes to immune-related pathologies later in life.

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