South African Medical Journal = Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif Vir Geneeskunde
Of all the theories purporting to uncover the roots of childhood behaviour and its extension into adult behaviour, the most cogent relates to the physical and psychological bonds of attachment between infant and mother. It is helpful to divide the human lifespan into three periods, each of which has alternating phases of attachment and detachment.
The transfer and persistence of fetal progenitor cells into the mother throughout pregnancy has sparked considerable interest as a trafficking stem cell and immunological phenomenon. Indeed, the intriguing longevity of semi-allogeneic fetal microchimeric cells (FMC) in parous women raises questions over their potential clinical implications. FMC have been associated with both immune-modulatory roles and participation in maternal tissue repair.
Behavioral perinatology is as an interdisciplinary area of research that involves conceptualization of theoretical models and conduct of empirical studies of the dynamic time-, place-, and context-dependent interplay between biological and behavioral processes in fetal, neonatal, and infant life using an epigenetic framework of development. The biobehavioral processes of particular interest to our research group relate to the effects of maternal pre- and perinatal stress and maternal-placental-fetal stress physiology.
Epidemiological evidence suggests that an adverse prenatal environment permanently 'programs' physiology and increases the risk of cardiovascular, metabolic, neuroendocrine and psychiatric disorders in adulthood. Prenatal stress or exposure to excess glucocorticoids might provide the link between fetal maturation and adult pathophysiology.
Two major environmental developments have occurred in mammalian evolution which have impacted on the genetic and epigenetic regulation of brain development. The first of these was viviparity and development of the placenta which placed a considerable burden of time and energy investment on the matriline, and which resulted in essential hypothalamic modifications.
BACKGROUND: Maternal smoking during pregnancy (MSDP) is associated with early and long-term neurobehavioral deficits; however mechanisms remain unknown. We tested the hypothesis that MSDP programs the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis of the offspring leading to adverse outcomes. In an intensive, prospective study, we investigated associations between MSDP and infant cortisol stress response and explored whether alterations in cortisol response were mediated by epigenetic modulation of the placental glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1).
During gestation, development proceeds at a pace that is unmatched by any other stage of the life cycle. For these reasons the human fetus is particularly susceptible not only to organizing influences, but also to pathogenic disorganizing influences. Growing evidence suggests that exposure to prenatal adversity leads to neurological changes that underlie lifetime risks for mental illness. Beginning early in gestation, males and females show differential developmental trajectories and responses to stress.
The serotonin receptor 5-HT2A (encoded by HTR2A) is an important regulator of fetal brain development and adult cognitive function. Environmental signals that induce epigenetic changes of serotonin response genes, including HTR2A, have been implicated in adverse mental health outcomes. The objective of this perspective article is to address the medical implications of HTR2A epigenetic regulation, which has been associated with both infant neurobehavioral outcomes and adult mental health.
Infant neurobehavior, a potential sentinel of future mental and behavioral morbidity characterized in part by reflex symmetry, excitability and habituation to stimuli, is influenced by aspects of the intrauterine environment partially through epigenetic alterations of genes involved in the stress response.
Preterm birth is associated with medical problems affecting the neuroendocrine system, altering cortisol levels resulting in negative effects on newborn neurobehavior. Newborn neurobehavior is regulated by DNA methylation of NR3C1 and HSD11B2. AIM: Determine if methylation of HSD11B2 and NR3C1 is associated with neurobehavioral profiles in preterm infants. PATIENTS & METHODS: Neurobehavior was measured before discharge from the hospital in 67 preterm infants. Cheek swabs were collected for DNA extraction.