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Mother's Immune System Tied to Baby's Risk for Schizophrenia

July 15, 2014. Researchers have long known that women who get an infection such as the flu while pregnant have a slightly increased chance that their baby will develop schizophrenia in adulthood. However, because so many different types of infections, from bacteria to viruses to parasites, all increase the offspring's risk of schizophrenia, researchers think that activation of the immune system in general—rather than the specific pathogen causing the infection—is responsible. A new study, based on a large sample of people in Finland and published online June 27 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, strengthens this idea, and adds to the ever growing pile of evidence implicating the immune system in schizophrenia.

The results are the latest findings from the Finnish Prenatal Studies, a large project that collected blood samples from all pregnant women who gave birth in Finland from 1983 to 1998, and followed the health of the infants all the way into adulthood. A team of researchers led by Alan Brown at Columbia University in New York City has tapped into this wealth of data to investigate the link between inflammation and schizophrenia. Compared to the blood from moms whose offspring did not develop schizophrenia, the blood from the women whose progeny were later diagnosed with schizophrenia had higher levels of an inflammatory protein. Although not definitive proof, these results strongly suggest that higher levels of maternal inflammation during pregnancy are somehow involved in the development of some cases of schizophrenia and may have implications for treatment and prevention of the illness. (For more details, see the related news story.)—Allison A. Curley.

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