Maternal immune activation (MIA) is a risk factor for the development of schizophrenia and autism. Infections during pregnancy activate the mother's immune system and alter the fetal environment, with consequential effects on CNS function and behavior in the offspring, but the cellular and molecular links between infection-induced altered fetal development and risk for neuropsychiatric disorders are unknown. We investigated the immunological, molecular, and behavioral effects of MIA in the offspring of pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats given an intraperitoneal (0.25 mg/kg) injection of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) on gestational day 15. LPS significantly elevated pro-inflammatory cytokine levels in maternal serum, amniotic fluid, and fetal brain at 4 h, and levels decreased but remained elevated at 24 h. Offspring born to LPS-treated dams exhibited reduced social preference and exploration behaviors as juveniles and young adults. Whole genome microarray analysis of the fetal brain at 4 h post maternal LPS was performed to elucidate the possible molecular mechanisms by which MIA affects the fetal brain. We observed dysregulation of 3285 genes in restricted functional categories, with increased mRNA expression of cellular stress and cell death genes and reduced expression of developmentally-regulated and brain-specific genes, specifically those that regulate neuronal migration of GABAergic interneurons, including the Distal-less (Dlx) family of transcription factors required for tangential migration from progenitor pools within the ganglionic eminences into the cerebral cortex. Our results provide a novel mechanism by which MIA induces the widespread down-regulation of critical neurodevelopmental genes, including those previously associated with autism.
Published by Elsevier Inc.