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Brain Res Rev. 2010 Oct 5;65(1):56-79. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2010.06.002. Epub 2010 Jun 13.

Prenatal stress and brain development.

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  • 1McGill University, Department of Psychiatry, Montreal, Québec, Canada.

Abstract

Prenatal stress (PS) has been linked to abnormal cognitive, behavioral and psychosocial outcomes in both animals and humans. Animal studies have clearly demonstrated PS effects on the offspring's brain, however, while it has been speculated that PS most likely affects the brains of exposed human fetuses as well, no study has to date examined this possibility prospectively using an independent stressor (i.e., a stressful event that the pregnant woman has no control over, such as a natural disaster). The aim of this review is to summarize the existing animal literature by focusing on specific brain regions that have been shown to be affected by PS both macroscopically and microscopically. These regions include the hippocampus, amygdala, corpus callosum, anterior commissure, cerebral cortex, cerebellum and hypothalamus. We first discuss the mechanisms by which the effects of PS might occur. In particular, we show that maternal and fetal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axes, and the placenta, are the most likely candidates for these mechanisms. We see that, although animal studies have obvious advantages over human studies, the integration of findings in animals and the transfer of these findings to human populations remains a complex issue. Finally, we show how it is possible to circumvent these challenges by studying the effects of PS on brain development directly in humans, by taking advantage of natural or man-made disasters and assessing the impact and consequences of such stressful events on pregnant women and their offspring prospectively.

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

PMID:
20550950
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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