Inflammation during fetal and neonatal life: implications for neurologic and neuropsychiatric disease in children and adults

Ann Neurol. 2012 Apr;71(4):444-57. doi: 10.1002/ana.22620. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


Inflammation is increasingly recognized as being of both physiological and pathological importance in the immature brain. The rationale of this review is to present an update on this topic with focus on long-term consequences of inflammation during childhood and in adults. The immature brain can be exposed to inflammation in connection with viral or bacterial infection during pregnancy or as a result of sterile central nervous system (CNS) insults. Through efficient anti-inflammatory and reparative processes, inflammation may resolve without any harmful effects on the brain. Alternatively, inflammation contributes to injury or enhances CNS vulnerability. Acute inflammation can also be shifted to a chronic inflammatory state and/or adversely affect brain development. Hypothetically, microglia are the main immunocompetent cells in the immature CNS, and depending on the stimulus, molecular context, and timing, these cells will acquire various phenotypes, which will be critical regarding the CNS consequences of inflammation. Inflammation has long-term consequences and could speculatively modify the risk of a variety of neurological disorders, including cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, cognitive impairment, and Parkinson disease. So far, the picture is incomplete, and data mostly experimental. Further studies are required to strengthen the associations in humans and to determine whether novel therapeutic interventions during the perinatal period can influence the occurrence of neurological disease later in life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Female
  • Fetus
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Mental Disorders / immunology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology*