Inflammatory modulation of the associations between prenatal maternal depression and neonatal brain

Yonghui Wu, Han Zhang, Changqing Wang, Birit F.P. Broekman, Yap Seng Chong, Lynette P. Shek, Peter D. Gluckman, Michael J. Meaney, Marielle V. Fortier, Anqi Qiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Inflammatory signaling has a role in sensing intrauterine environment, which may be moderators in altering fetal brain development upon maternal environment. This study integrated cytokine transcriptome of post-mortem fetal brains, neonatal brain imaging and genetic variants (n = 161) to examine whether cytokines are candidates for modulating the relationship between prenatal maternal depression and fetal brain development. This study obtained the transcriptome data of 208 cytokine genes in 12 fetal brain regions from the BrainSpan database. We also included 161 mother–child dyads with prenatal maternal depressive symptoms assessed at 26 weeks of gestation, cytokine genotype data extracted from umbilical cord specimens, and neonatal brain images from a longitudinal prospective birth cohort. We revealed that 22 cytokine genes are expressed in specific brain regions in utero, whose variants have roles in modulating the effects of the prenatal environment on the accelerated fetal development of the hippocampus, auditory, parietal, orbitofrontal, and dorsal prefrontal cortex. Neonates high in the genetic expression score (GES) of TNFRSF19 and IL17RB showed a larger right hippocampal volume, high in the GES of BMPR1B showed the thicker thickness of the sensorimotor cortex, and high in the GES of IL1RAP and CXCR4 demonstrated the thicker thickness of the dorsal and orbital prefrontal cortex in relation with greater prenatal maternal depressive symptoms. Our findings suggest that in humans, the cytokine genes are expressed in a brain region-specific manner in utero and may have potential roles in modulating the fetal development of the corresponding brain regions in response to the maternal environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-477
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

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