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Breaking News - Infections during pregnancy could affect a child's brain development and memory fun

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Published on May 22, 2018

Inflammation in a pregnant woman's body caused by infections like the flu or chronic stress can affect their unborn child's brain development, a new study has found.Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University tracked 84 women through pregnancy, and up to two years after birth.They found those who had elevated inflammation levels while pregnant were more likely to mother children who struggled with memory tests at age two compared to their peers.Experts warn the finding, which provides unprecedented insight into how the fetal brain develops, hammers home the need for pregnant women to get the flu shot and take every precaution to avoid infections that would trigger inflammatory responses.While this study is hardly the first sign that inflammation could harm a fetus, it has provided one of the clearest pictures of how it affects the newborn brain.It comes just weeks after Wayne State University showed stress impacted neural development in babies, following a similar principle.As the obesity epidemic worsens in America, the new study's lead author Dr Damien Fair warns the findings couldn't be more pertinent to today's critical issues for the American healthcare system.'Increased stress and poor diet are considered normal by today's standards, but greatly impact inflammation rates in all humans, not just expectant mothers,' Dr Fair, associate professor of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatry in the OHSU School of Medicine, said.'Just as important to understanding how the immune system and inflammation affect early brain development, we also need to understand what common factors contribute to heightened inflammation so that we may target therapies to help reduce the rates of inflammation and overall impact on the developing brain.'As a first step, his team sought to understand how a mother's inflammatory response could impact neural development.Working with a researcher from in Berlin and UC Irvine, they collected blood samples from 84 pregnant women in their first, second and third trimesters.They measured an inflammatory biomarker called IL-6 which has been linked to fetal brain development in previous studies, though never confirmed as directly linked.One month after the birth, each baby's brain was scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).Two years later, each child underwent a memory test used by pediatricians across the world to assess mental disability.They found a stark connection between elevated IL-6 levels, underdeveloped brains in the fMRI and poor memory performance.Dr Fair said he can foresee a time when we have medications for pregnant women that offset the damage of (sometimes unavoidable) inflammation.For now, the team insisted pregnant women should not panic about the links, but do what they can to stay healthy.'This doesn't mean that every exposure to inflammation will result in a negative impact to the child,' said co-author Dr Alice Graham, a postdoctoral fellow in behavioral neuroscience at OHSU.'Howeve
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