Association Between Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Infection and Offspring Mood Disorders: A Review of the Literature

Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2015 Nov;45(11):325-64. doi: 10.1016/j.cppeds.2015.06.008. Epub 2015 Oct 23.


The purpose of this article is to provide a systematic review of studies that have examined the association between prenatal exposure to maternal infection and development of mood disorders across the life course. Drawing from both human- and animal-based studies, we give an overview of hypothesized biological mechanisms by which exposure to maternal infection during critical periods of gestation may contribute to fetal programming of mood disorders in offspring. We discuss studies examining the association between prenatal exposure to maternal infection with pathogens including influenza as well as other respiratory viruses, herpesviruses, hepatitis viruses, and Toxoplasma gondii and mood disorders in human populations. Moreover, we outline strengths and limitations of the current body of evidence and make recommendations for future research. We also discuss findings in the context of well-documented gender and socioeconomic disparities in the prevalence and severity of mood disorders, particularly major depression, and the role that early exposure to infection may play in explaining the perpetuation of such disparities across generations. Overall, this review of the current knowledge on this topic has important implications for determining future research directions, designing interventions as well as prenatal care guidelines targeted at prevention or treatment of infection during pregnancy, and clinical practice for the identification of individuals that may be at increased risk for mood disorders beginning early in life. Importantly, such efforts may not only lower the overall burden of mood disorders but also serve to address social disparities in these adverse mental health conditions in the U.S.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Mood Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mood Disorders / etiology*
  • Mood Disorders / immunology
  • Mood Disorders / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / psychology
  • Prenatal Care / methods*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / immunology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology
  • United States / epidemiology