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Life stressors trigger neurological disorders, researchers find
Date:4/22/2014

Washington, DC -- When mothers are exposed to trauma, illness, alcohol or other drug abuse, these stressors may activate a single molecular trigger in brain cells that can go awry and activate conditions such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and some forms of autism.

Until now, it has been unclear how much these stressors have impacted the cells of a developing brain. Past studies have shown that when an expectant mother exposes herself to alcohol or drug abuse or she experiences some trauma or illness, her baby may later develop a psychiatric disorder, including some forms of autism or post-traumatic stress disorder, later in life. But the new findings, published online in Neuron, identifies a molecular mechanism in the prenatal brain that may help explain how cells go awry when exposed to certain environmental conditions.

Kazue Hasimoto-Torii, PhD, Principal Investigator of the Center for Neuroscience, Children's National Health System, and a Scott-Gentle Foundation investigator, is lead author of the paper. Torii was previously at Yale, whose researchers were co-authors in the report. The research was funded primarily through National Institutes of Health grants.

Researchers found that mouse embryos exposed to alcohol, methyl-mercury, or maternal seizures activate a single gene, HSF1, also known as heat shock factor, in cerebral cortex. The HSF1 "plays a crucial role in the response of brain cells to prenatal environmental insults," the researchers reported. "The gene protects and enables brain cells to survive prenatal assaults. Mice lacking the HSF1 gene showed structural brain abnormalities and were prone to seizures after birth following exposures to very low levels of toxins."

Even in mice where the HSF1 gene was properly activated to combat environmental insults, the molecular mechanism alone may permanently change how
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Contact: Joe Cantlupe
jcantlupe@childrensnational.org
202-476-4500
Children's National Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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