Research confirms how early-life events shape later physiology
Underscoring the value of good prenatal care, new research suggests that early infection may create a cognitive vulnerability that appears later during stress on the immune system. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have reported that rats who experienced a one-time infection as newborns didnt learn as well as adult rats who were not infected as pups, after their immunity was challenged. The research is in Februarys Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
The findings fit into a growing body of evidence that even a one-time infection can potentially permanently change physiological systems, a phenomenon called "perinatal programming."
Understanding how infection in newborns can disrupt memory in immune-challenged adults may help scientists to understand how exposure to germs or environmental stressors before or just after birth may foster susceptibility to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. For example, prenatal viral infection has been implicated in schizophrenia, autism and cerebral palsy; bacterial infection is a risk factor for Parkinsons disease. Up to 20 percent of pregnancies have complications involving infections of the uterus and its contents, a number that will rise as more children are born premature.
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