Prenatal infection and schizophrenia: a review of epidemiologic and translational studies

Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Mar;167(3):261-80. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09030361. Epub 2010 Feb 1.


An emerging literature from epidemiologic, clinical, and preclinical investigations has provided evidence that gestational exposure to infection contributes to the etiology of schizophrenia. In recent years, these studies have moved from ecologic designs, which ascertain infection based on epidemics in populations, to investigations that have capitalized on reliable biomarkers in individual pregnancies. These studies have documented specific candidate infections that appear to be associated with an elevated risk of schizophrenia. Animal models of maternal immune activation inspired by this work have revealed intriguing findings indicating behavioral, neurochemical, and neurophysiologic abnormalities consistent with observations in schizophrenia. In parallel studies in humans and animals, investigators are working to uncover the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which in utero exposure to infection contributes to schizophrenia risk. In this review, the authors discuss and critically evaluate the epidemiologic literature on in utero exposure to infection and schizophrenia, summarize emerging animal models of maternal immune activation, and discuss putative unique and common mechanisms by which in utero exposure to infection alters neurodevelopment, potentially increasing susceptibility to schizophrenia. The promise of this work for facilitating the identification of susceptibility loci in genetic studies of schizophrenia is illustrated by examples of interaction between in utero exposure to infection and genetic variants. The authors then elaborate on possible implications of this work, including the use of preventive measures for reducing the incidence of schizophrenia. Finally, they discuss new approaches aimed at addressing current challenges in this area of research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Causality
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Herpes Genitalis / complications
  • Herpes Genitalis / epidemiology
  • Herpes Genitalis / genetics
  • Herpes Genitalis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Influenza, Human / complications
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / genetics
  • Influenza, Human / immunology
  • Mice
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / etiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / genetics
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / immunology
  • Pyelonephritis / complications
  • Pyelonephritis / epidemiology
  • Pyelonephritis / genetics
  • Pyelonephritis / immunology
  • Rats
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology*
  • Schizophrenia / etiology*
  • Schizophrenia / genetics
  • Schizophrenia / immunology
  • Social Environment
  • Toxoplasmosis, Congenital / complications
  • Toxoplasmosis, Congenital / epidemiology
  • Toxoplasmosis, Congenital / genetics
  • Toxoplasmosis, Congenital / immunology


  • Cytokines