Prenatal infection and risk for schizophrenia: IL-1beta, IL-6, and TNFalpha inhibit cortical neuron dendrite development

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004 Jul;29(7):1221-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300446.


Prenatal exposure to infection increases risk for schizophrenia, and we have hypothesized that inflammatory cytokines, generated in response to maternal infection, alter neuron development and increase risk for schizophrenia. We sought to study the effect of cytokines generated in response to infection-interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta), tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha), and interleukin-6 (IL-6)-on the dendritic development of cortical neurons. Primary mixed neuronal cultures were obtained from E18 rats and exposed to 0, 100, or 1000 units (U)/ml of IL-1beta, TNFalpha, IL-6, or IL-1beta+TNFalpha for 44 h. MAP-2-positive neurons were randomly identified for each condition and the number of primary dendrites, nodes, and total dendrite length was determined. We found that 100 U of TNFalpha significantly reduced the number of nodes (27%, p=0.02) and total dendritic length (14%, p=0.04), but did not affect overall neuron survival. A measure of 100 U IL-1beta+TNFalpha significantly reduced the number of primary dendrites (17%, p=0.006), nodes (32%, p=0.001), and total dendritic length (30%, p<0.0001), although it did not affect overall neuron survival. At 1000 U, each cytokine significantly reduced the number of primary dendrites (14-24%), nodes (28-37%), as well as total dendritic length (25-30%); neuron survival was reduced by 14-21%. These results indicate that inflammatory cytokines can significantly reduce dendrite development and complexity of developing cortical neurons, consistent with the neuropathology of schizophrenia. These findings also support the hypothesis that cytokines play a key mechanistic role in the link between prenatal exposure to infection and risk for schizophrenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Dendrites
  • Female
  • Infections / complications
  • Interleukin-1beta / physiology*
  • Interleukin-6 / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Schizophrenia / etiology*
  • Schizophrenia / immunology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / physiology*


  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha