High pregnancy anxiety during mid-gestation is associated with decreased gray matter density in 6-9-year-old children.

Psychoneuroendocrinology

PubMedID: 19674845

Buss C, Davis EP, Muftuler LT, Head K, Sandman CA. High pregnancy anxiety during mid-gestation is associated with decreased gray matter density in 6-9-year-old children. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010;35(1):141-53.
Because the brain undergoes dramatic changes during fetal development it is vulnerable to environmental insults. There is evidence that maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy influences birth outcome but there are no studies that have evaluated the influence of stress during human pregnancy on brain morphology. In the current prospective longitudinal study we included 35 women for whom serial data on pregnancy anxiety was available at 19 (+/-0.83), 25 (+/-0.9) and 31 (+/-0.9) weeks gestation. When the offspring from the target pregnancy were between 6 and 9 years of age, their neurodevelopmental stage was assessed by a structural MRI scan. With the application of voxel-based morphometry, we found regional reductions in gray matter density in association with pregnancy anxiety after controlling for total gray matter volume, age, gestational age at birth, handedness and postpartum perceived stress. Specifically, independent of postnatal stress, pregnancy anxiety at 19 weeks gestation was associated with gray matter volume reductions in the prefrontal cortex, the premotor cortex, the medial temporal lobe, the lateral temporal cortex, the postcentral gyrus as well as the cerebellum extending to the middle occipital gyrus and the fusiform gyrus. High pregnancy anxiety at 25 and 31 weeks gestation was not significantly associated with local reductions in gray matter volume.This is the first prospective study to show that a specific temporal pattern of pregnancy anxiety is related to specific changes in brain morphology. Altered gray matter volume in brain regions affected by prenatal maternal anxiety may render the developing individual more vulnerable to neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders as well as cognitive and intellectual impairment.