Prenatal stress and depression associated neuronal development in neonates

Int J Dev Neurosci. 2017 Aug:60:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2017.04.001. Epub 2017 Apr 4.


Prenatal maternal depression has its direct effects on early brain development deficits with permanent changes in neuroendocrine functions and impaired behavior in offsprings. Prenatal stress (PS) transmits its affect on developing fetus and on pregnancy outcomes in adult offsprings. This results in impaired neurodevelopment, delayed cognitive and motor development with impaired behavior towards stressful conditions. There are sufficient evidences in animal models suggesting depression responsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and its hormonal response via cortisol, responsible for its critical effects in both the mother and offspring. We review the evidences how maternal psychological distress has widespread effect on fetal/birth outcomes via major physiological alteration in HPA axis, autonomic nervous system, neurotransmitters and signaling pathways. Knowledge void in the area of epigenetic processes like DNA methylation, histone acetylation and regulation of microRNA during prenatally stressed fetal neurodevelopment has to be filled up with properly defined controls. This aims the need to reexamine available literatures and to explore more directional approaches for prevention of PS as well as future treatment for the well being of the mother and fetus during critical physiological changes.

Keywords: Impaired behavior; Neurodevelopment; Neuroendocrine; Prenatal stress; Psychological distress; Signaling pathways.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology