Evolution of structural abnormalities in the rat brain following in utero exposure to maternal immune activation: A longitudinal in vivo MRI study

Brain Behav Immun. 2017 Jul;63:50-59. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2016.12.008. Epub 2016 Dec 9.


Genetic and environmental risk factors for psychiatric disorders are suggested to disrupt the trajectory of brain maturation during adolescence, leading to the development of psychopathology in adulthood. Rodent models are powerful tools to dissect the specific effects of such risk factors on brain maturational profiles, particularly when combined with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI; clinically comparable technology). We therefore investigated the effect of maternal immune activation (MIA), an epidemiological risk factor for adult-onset psychiatric disorders, on rat brain maturation using atlas and tensor-based morphometry analysis of longitudinal in vivo MR images. Exposure to MIA resulted in decreases in the volume of several cortical regions, the hippocampus, amygdala, striatum, nucleus accumbens and unexpectedly, the lateral ventricles, relative to controls. In contrast, the volumes of the thalamus, ventral mesencephalon, brain stem and major white matter tracts were larger, relative to controls. These volumetric changes were maximal between post-natal day 50 and 100 with no differences between the groups thereafter. These data are consistent with and extend prior studies of brain structure in MIA-exposed rodents. Apart from the ventricular findings, these data have robust face validity to clinical imaging findings reported in studies of individuals at high clinical risk for a psychiatric disorder. Further work is now required to address the relationship of these MRI changes to behavioral dysfunction and to establish thier cellular correlates.

Keywords: Cortex; Magnetic resonance imaging; Maternal immune activation; Poly(I:C); Volume; schizophrenia.

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / pathology
  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / pathology
  • Poly I-C / pharmacology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / immunology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Poly I-C