Maternal Immune Activation by Poly I:C as a preclinical Model for Neurodevelopmental Disorders: A focus on Autism and Schizophrenia

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020 Jun;113:546-567. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.04.012. Epub 2020 Apr 19.


Maternal immune activation (MIA) in response to a viral infection during early and mid-gestation has been linked through various epidemiological studies to a higher risk for the child to develop autism or schizophrenia-related symptoms.. This has led to the establishment of the pathogen-free poly I:C-induced MIA animal model for neurodevelopmental disorders, which shows relatively high construct and face validity. Depending on the experimental variables, particularly the timing of poly I:C administration, different behavioural and molecular phenotypes have been described that relate to specific symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and/or schizophrenia. We here review and summarize epidemiological evidence for the effects of maternal infection and immune activation, as well as major findings in different poly I:C MIA models with a focus on poly I:C exposure timing, behavioural and molecular changes in the offspring, and characteristics of the model that relate it to autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.

Keywords: Maternal immune activation; animal model; autism spectrum disorder; environmental impact on brain development; prenatal brain development; schizophrenia; viral infection during pregnancy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder*
  • Autistic Disorder*
  • Child
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders*
  • Poly I-C
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Schizophrenia*


  • Poly I-C