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Mother's flu during pregnancy may increase baby's risk of schizophrenia
Date:3/11/2010

CHAPEL HILL Rhesus monkey babies born to mothers who had the flu while pregnant had smaller brains and showed other brain changes similar to those observed in human patients with schizophrenia, a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found.

The study, published online by the journal Biological Psychiatry, is the first study done with monkeys that examines the effects of flu during pregnancy. Results from this study support findings from rodent studies suggesting this type of infection may increase the risk of schizophrenia in the offspring, said lead author Sarah J. Short, Ph.D.

Short worked on the study while earning her doctorate at Wisconsin and now is a post-doctoral fellow at UNC working with John H. Gilmore, M.D., professor of psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine.

"This was a relatively mild flu infection, but it had a significant effect on the brains of the babies," Short said. "While these results aren't directly applicable to humans, I do think they reinforce the idea, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that pregnant women should get flu shots, before they get sick."

In the study, 12 rhesus macaques were infected with a mild influenza A virus 1 month before their baby's due date, early in the third trimester of pregnancy. For comparison, the study also included 7 pregnant monkeys who did not have the flu.

When the babies were 1 year old, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were taken of their brains. Researchers also assessed the babies' behavioral development at that time.

The babies born to flu-infected mothers showed no evidence of direct viral exposure. Their birth weight, gestation length and neuromotor, behavioral and endocrine responses were all normal.

However, the MRI scans revealed significant reductions in overall brain size in the flu-exposed babies. In
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Contact: Tom Hughes
tahughes@unch.unc.edu
919-966-6047
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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