Prenatal programing: at the intersection of maternal stress and immune activation

Horm Behav. 2012 Aug;62(3):237-42. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2012.03.007. Epub 2012 Mar 23.


Exposure to prenatal insults such as maternal stress and pathogenic infections has been associated with an increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders. The mechanisms by which these programing events occur likely involve complex interactions between the maternal hormonal milieu, the placenta, and the developing fetus, in addition to compounding factors such as fetal sex and gestational stage of development. Despite the diverse biological processes involved, examination of common pathways in maternal stress and immune activation offers intriguing possibilities for elucidation of mechanistic insight. Further, the endocrine and sex-specific placenta is a tissue poised to be a key mediator in fetal programing, located at the intersection of the maternal and embryonic environments. In this review, we will discuss the potential shared mechanisms of maternal stress and immune pathway activation, with a particular focus on the important contribution and role of the placenta.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Placenta / immunology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / immunology*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology*