Life Stressors Trigger Neurological Disorders in Fetuses
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When expectant mothers are exposed to trauma, illness, or alcohol/drug abuse, the stressors may activate a single molecular trigger in developing brains, triggering neurological disorders in fetuses, such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and some forms of autism.
Until recently, it has remained unclear as to how much these stressors are able to impact the cells of a developing brain.1
Past studies have shown that when a pregnant woman exposes herself to alcohol or drug abuse, or if she experiences some type of trauma or illness, her baby may develop a psychiatric disorder later on.1
However, new findings identify the molecular mechanism that causes neurological disorders in fetuses due to these stressors.1
Kazue Hasimoto-Torii, PhD, and Principal Investigator of the Center for Neuroscience, Children’s National Health System, and colleagues found that mouse embryos that were exposed to alcohol, methyl-mercury, or maternal seizures activate a single gene, HSF1, also known as the heart shock factor.1
The researchers report, “The HSF1 plays a crucial role in the response of brain cells to prenatal environmental insults. 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.”1