In a parallel animal study, Bale and colleagues were looking for predictive biomarkers of maternal stress and found that a specific protein in the placenta, OGT, may have implications for brain development in offspring. The single enzyme is known as O-linked-N-acetylglucosamine transferase or "OGT," which is important in a wide variety of regulatory functions, including development.
The researchers found that placentas associated with male mouse pups had lower levels of OGT than the placentas associated with female pups, and levels of OGT in the placenta were even lower when their moms were stressed.
The team then used transgenics to directly manipulate placental OGT levels similar to the effect that maternal stress has. That way, they could ask if any of the effects of mom's stress on brain development and function were related to this placental gene. What they found was fascinating--when these babies became adults, they were smaller and more sensitive to stress, very similar to the offspring from the stressed moms.
"Since lower levels were associated with stress, these results suggest that placental OGT may provide a protective role during pregnancy," said Bale. "These data also suggest that OGT may serve as a biomarker for a range of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, as we have previously shown similar regulation of this gene in human placental tissue."
|Contact: Steve Graff|
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine