Virus infections during pregnancy have an effect on the mother’s brain and postpartum care behavior, according to a recent study from the Medical University of Vienna.
The researchers’ findings were reported in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. There is plenty of evidence from mice research that viral infections during pregnancy can impact the developing brain of the young in utero (in the womb), with long-term effects on brain function and behavior.
For the first time, a preclinical investigation has showed that a viral-like immune activation during pregnancy impacts the maternal brain and impairs mother care behavior after delivery. These findings were published by a study team led by behavioral biologist Daniela D. Pollak of MedUni Vienna’s Center for Physiology and Pharmacology, in collaboration with colleagues from MedUni Vienna’s Center for Brain Research and Columbia University (USA).
Evaluation of Dams’ maternal care behavior
The researchers utilized a chemical substance that triggers the same receptor pathways as viruses to stimulate the immune system of the mother during pregnancy in a way that mimicked the normal course of a viral infection in this preclinical trial. Following the birth of the young, the dams’ maternal care behavior was evaluated.
“Dams who had experienced a viral-like immune activation were less caring towards their young than animals in the control group,” said Daniela D. Pollak, describing the results. “The naturally strong drive to take care of one’s own offspring and to keep them safe from harm was much less pronounced corresponding to a significant decline in attachment behavior.”
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Not only did the researchers see changes in the dams’ behavior, but they also discovered structural, chemical, and functional alterations in their brains, as well as some of the underlying causes.
Even while the findings from animal models cannot be directly applied to people, the research team believes they show that viral infections during pregnancy can alter mothers’ behavior toward their kids.
“Women who have had systemic viral illnesses during pregnancy may be at increased risk of impaired mother-infant bonding,” Pollak explained.
The researcher hopes that this will raise awareness so that women with a history of infection during pregnancy may be more prompted to seek medical or psychotherapeutic treatment if they experience indications of impaired bonding after birth, which may affect the well-being of the mother and child.
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