Psychoneuroimmunology in pregnancy: immune pathways linking stress with maternal health, adverse birth outcomes, and fetal development

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Jan;36(1):350-61. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.07.005. Epub 2011 Jul 19.


It is well-established that psychological stress promotes immune dysregulation in nonpregnant humans and animals. Stress promotes inflammation, impairs antibody responses to vaccination, slows wound healing, and suppresses cell-mediated immune function. Importantly, the immune system changes substantially to support healthy pregnancy, with attenuation of inflammatory responses and impairment of cell-mediated immunity. This adaptation is postulated to protect the fetus from rejection by the maternal immune system. Thus, stress-induced immune dysregulation during pregnancy has unique implications for both maternal and fetal health, particularly preterm birth. However, very limited research has examined stress-immune relationships in pregnancy. The application of psychoneuroimmunology research models to the perinatal period holds great promise for elucidating biological pathways by which stress may affect adverse pregnancy outcomes, maternal health, and fetal development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Fetal Development* / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiopathology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases*
  • Male
  • Maternal Welfare*
  • Pregnancy / immunology*
  • Psychoneuroimmunology*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*