Her study showed a direct correlation between structural brain changes among offspring diagnosed with schizophrenia and increases in maternal levels of interleukin-8 (IL-8), one of the proinflammatory cytokines produced when fighting infection during pregnancy.
"The brain abnormalities we found are ones consistently linked with schizophrenia, suggesting that an elevated immune response during pregnancy might contribute to some of the brain abnormalities associated with the disorder," Ellman said.
Maternal IL-8 levels were not related to any brain changes among a control group of offspring, indicating that vulnerability to schizophrenia needed to be present for the fetal brain to be affected, she said.
"Our findings underscore the potential importance of prenatal contributions to schizophrenia, with implications for prevention, early intervention, and treatment strategies," said Ellman.
Ellman is uniquely positioned to answer questions related to pregnancy and fetal development. An assistant professor of psychology in Temple's College of Liberal Arts, she examines how maternal stress and immune functioning during pregnancy impact fetal brain development.
"I set out to study the impact of stress during pregnancy, and it became clear pretty quickly that you couldn't study the impact of stress without looking at the immune system," she said. "The two are completely intertwined."
According to Ellman, one of the main ways pregnancy makes women susceptible to infections is that changes in the immune system during pregnancy reduce some of the body's key defenses. In addition, maternal emotional states, like stress, can alter immune functioning. This increased vulnerability to infection comes at a time when the fetal brain is experiencing enormous growth.
"In light of our study, which calls
|Contact: Eryn Jelesiewicz|