The gestational state is a period of particular vulnerability to diseases that affect maternal and fetal health. Stress during gestation may represent a powerful influence on maternal mental health and offspring brain plasticity and development. Here, University of Lethbridge researchers show that the fetal transcriptome, through microRNA (miRNA) regulation, responds to prenatal stress in association with epigenetic signatures of psychiatric and neurological diseases.

Pregnant Long-Evans rats were assigned to stress from gestational days 12 to 18 while others served as handled controls. Gestational stress in the dam disrupted parturient maternal behaviour and was accompanied by characteristic brain miRNA profiles in the mother and her offspring, and altered transcriptomic brain profiles in the offspring. miRNA expression was analyzed using microarray technology performed by LC Sciences. In the offspring brains, prenatal stress upregulated miR-103, which is involved in brain pathologies, and downregulated its potential gene target . Prenatal stress downregulated miR-145, a marker of multiple sclerosis in humans. Prenatal stress also upregulated miR-323 and miR-98, which may alter inflammatory responses in the brain. Furthermore, prenatal stress upregulated miR-219, which targets the gene . Both miR-219 and are putative markers of schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder in humans. Offspring transcriptomic changes included genes related to development, axonal guidance and neuropathology. These findings indicate that prenatal stress modifies epigenetic signatures linked to disease during critical periods of fetal brain development. These observations provide a new mechanistic association between environmental and genetic risk factors in psychiatric and neurological disease.

Prenatal stress alters the brain transcriptome in male newborn offspring

LC Sciences

Differential global gene expression in the brains of prenatally stressed newborn rats. Ptplb and Dazap1 are targets for miR-103 and miR-219, respectively.

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Zucchi FC, Yao Y, Ward ID, Ilnytskyy Y, Olson DM, Benzies K, Kovalchuk I, Kovalchuk O, Metz GA. (2013) Maternal stress induces epigenetic signatures of psychiatric and neurological diseases in the offspring. PloS one 8(2), e56967. [article]

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