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Rats infected as newborns grew up vulnerable to memory problems during an immune challenge

Underscoring the value of good prenatal care, new research suggests that early infection may create a cognitive vulnerability that appears later during stress on the immune system. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have reported that rats who experienced a one-time infection as newborns didn't learn as well as adult rats who were not infected as pups, after their immunity was challenged. The research is in February's Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The findings fit into a growing body of evidence that even a one-time infection can potentially permanently change physiological systems, a phenomenon called "perinatal programming."


Understanding how infection in newborns can disrupt memory in immune-challenged adults may help scientists to understand how exposure to germs or environmental stressors before or just after birth may foster susceptibility to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. For example, prenatal viral infection has been implicated in schizophrenia, autism and cerebral palsy; bacterial infection is a risk factor for Parkinson's disease. Up to 20 percent of pregnancies have complications involving infections of the uterus and its contents, a number that will rise as more children are born premature.

In the study, a team led by Staci Bilbo, PhD, injected a group of 49 rat pups on postnatal Day 4 either with the common intestinal bacteria E. coli, with salt water, or with nothing. In rats, Day 4 is like the third trimester in human pregnancies, a time when the brain grows significantly.

Once the pups grew up, Bilbo and her colleagues tested the adults' memory about 60 days after birth. To test memory, each rat was allowed to explore a novel experimental chamber for several minutes on the first day. On the second day, each rat was placed back into the chamber and was shocked for two seconds and then put back in its home cage. After 24 hours
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Source:American Psychological Association


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