Neuroinflammation

Effect of Neuroinflammation on Development and Function of Neural Circuits

Prenatal immune activation increases the frequency of diagnoses for autism, schizophrenia, and depression. For example, children of mothers who were exposed to the influenza virus during the second trimester of gestation have a significantly higher risk of developing schizophrenia. Influenza during pregnancy is also a significant predictor for autism. Recently, it has become clear that inflammatory signals from the gut play an important role in programming of the brain. Many behavioral disorders that have been associated with prenatal immune stress show marked sex differences in incidence. For example, schizophrenia is more common in males than in females. Likewise, autism is much more common in boys than in girls. It is unclear how these sex differences develop. Our lab studies the effect of immune activation on neural systems involved in social behavior in males and females. This includes studies on the effect of gut microbiota on the brain in collaboration with the laboratory of Andrew Gewirtz. The gut microbiota consists of all the micro-organisms that colonize the gastrointestinal tract and play an important role for immune function and digestion.  These microbiota then communicate with the brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis, a bidirectional communication pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. Preliminary results from our lab indicate that the microbiota influences the development of vasopressin innervation in sexually dimorphic ways. Our studies are geared towards identifying components of this pathway and the role it plays in controlling behavior.

Further reading

Taylor PV, Veenema AH, Paul MJ, Bredewold R, Isaacs S, De Vries GJ. 2012. Sexually dimorphic effects of a prenatal immune challenge on social play and vasopressin expression in juvenile rats. Biology of Sex Differences 3: 15.

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