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Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2009 May;12(4):513-24. doi: 10.1017/S1461145708009206. Epub 2008 Aug 28.

Prenatal immune activation leads to multiple changes in basal neurotransmitter levels in the adult brain: implications for brain disorders of neurodevelopmental origin such as schizophrenia.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany.


Maternal infection during pregnancy enhances the offspring's risk for severe neuropsychiatric disorders in later life, including schizophrenia. Recent attempts to model this association in animals provided further experimental evidence for a causal relationship between in-utero immune challenge and the postnatal emergence of a wide spectrum of behavioural, pharmacological and neuroanatomical dysfunctions implicated in schizophrenia. However, it still remains unknown whether the prenatal infection-induced changes in brain and behavioural functions may be associated with multiple changes at the neurochemical level. Here, we tested this hypothesis in a recently established mouse model of viral-like infection. Pregnant dams on gestation day 9 were exposed to viral mimetic polyriboinosinic-polyribocytidilic acid (PolyI:C, 5 mg/kg i.v.) or vehicle treatment, and basal neurotransmitter levels were then compared in the adult brains of animals born to PolyI:C- or vehicle-treated mothers by high-performance liquid chromatography on post-mortem tissue. We found that prenatal immune activation significantly increased the levels of dopamine and its major metabolites in the lateral globus pallidus and prefrontal cortex, whilst at the same time it decreased serotonin and its metabolite in the hippocampus, nucleus accumbens and lateral globus pallidus. In addition, a specific reduction of the inhibitory amino acid taurine in the hippocampus was noted in prenatally PolyI:C-exposed offspring relative to controls, whereas central glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) content was largely unaffected by prenatal immune activation. Our results thus confirm that maternal immunological stimulation during early/middle pregnancy is sufficient to induce long-term changes in multiple neurotransmitter levels in the brains of adult offspring. This further supports the possibility that infection-mediated interference with early fetal brain development may predispose the developing organism to the emergence of neurochemical imbalances in adulthood, which may be critically involved in the precipitation of adult behavioural and pharmacological abnormalities after prenatal immune challenge.

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