New research revealed today that prenatal stress may be a possible cause to the development of a variety of mental health disorders such as depression, excessive stress and mood swings. Dr. Sissi Jakob from the University of Wurzbur in Germany presented this grounbreaking research at a press conference at the Society for Neuroscience in Washington D.C., the largest conference in the world where neurobiologists share and present the latest on neuroscience research.
It has been known for more than 15 years that serotonin plays a big role in regulating anxiety and mood behavior in humans. Indeed, point mutations of the serotonin transporter gene can lead to inheritable forms of anxiety and stress in humans. The scientists that lead this study wanted to test the hypothesis of whether prenatal stress can be passed on to future generations of mice by pregnant mice and whether there is an epigenetic cause for this effect.
In brief, mutant mice embryos carrying a modified serotonin transporter gene were exposed to prenatal stress inside the womb of the pregnant mice and a series of behavioral tests were done on newborn mice. The procedure consisted of restraining pregnant mice during the last week of gestation inside small glass cylinders in order to induce high levels of stress and anxiety. The newborn mice were then analyzed for their behavior throughout their lifespan by running a battery of behavioral tests in newborn mice and followed them to up to 12 months of age, equivalent to a middle aged human adult. Indeed, mice exposed to prenatal stress caused robust stress and anxiety related behavior as adults, an effect that seemed more severe in female mice.
The scientists discovered that stress related behavior can cause whole set of genes to be reprogrammed and become inactivated. Indeed, the authors of the study performed microarray analyses and showed that a series of genes were reprogrammed in the hippocampus of adult mice that underwent prenatal stress. Many of the genes that were repressed due to prenatal stress included important genes that are critical for survival of neurons and for development including the mitogen-activated protein kinase and neurotrophin related signaling genes suggesting that neurons of stress mice are vulnerable to toxicity.
It has been known for quite some time that a growing number of people suffer from disorders and the development of several mental health disorders are linked to alterations in the brain neurochemistry and neuroanatomy. Also, genetic and environmental factors play a major role in determining whether a psychiatric related disorder will develop in the adult.
The clinical symptoms of anxiety and stress can be relieved temporarily by taking anxiolytic drugs such as Xanax, although some of these drugs can cause physical dependence. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and West Penn Hospital have excellent programs to treat anxiety and stress related disorders by providing cognitive beheavioral therapy and a variety of psycho-educational groups for patients and their families to teach them about mood disorders.
Interested in donating for a good cause while promoting science education? Help develop a neuroscience lab manual for middle school, high school and college students and get directly involved in the project.. To get started click on the following link from RocketHub (Crowdfunding website) below:
Did you find this article interesting? Will you like to receive more medical tech news? Then consider subscribing to my newsletter or post a comment below.