University of Pennsylvania Study Examines Link Between Maternal Stress and Fetus Brain Development

A study by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania finds that when a pregnant woman undergoes stress an enzyme in the placenta may reprogram the brain of the developing fetus and increase the risk of autism spectrum disorders. The research found that the enzyme known as OGT translates maternal stress into a reprogramming signal for the developing brain.

Tracy L. Bale, a professor of animal biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, associate professor of neuroscience in the university’s School of Medicine, and the senior author of the study, stated, “OGT seems to be serving a role as the ‘canary in the coal mine,’ offing a readout of mom’s stress to change the baby’s developing brain. People seem to think that the placenta only serves to promote blood flow between a mom and her baby, but that’s really not all it’s doing.”

Professor Bale is a graduate of Washington State University. She holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology/neurobiology from the University of Washington.

The study, “Targeted Placental Deletion of OGT Recapitulates the Prenatal Stress Phenotype Including Hypothalamic Mitochondrial Dysfunction,” was published on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It may be accessed here.

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