Prenatal origins of neuropsychiatric diseases

Acta Paediatr. 2021 Jun;110(6):1741-1749. doi: 10.1111/apa.15766. Epub 2021 Feb 12.


Aim: The main objective is to review the available evidence in the literature for developmental origins of neuropsychiatric diseases and their underlying mechanisms. We also probe emerging cutting-edge prenatal MR imaging tools and their future role in advancing our understanding the prenatal footprints of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Observations: Both human and animal studies support early intrauterine origins of neuropsychiatric disease, particularly autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention and hyperactivity disorders, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and mood disorders. Specific mechanisms of intrauterine injury include infection, inflammation, hypoxia, hypoperfusion, ischaemia polysubstance use/abuse, maternal mental health and placental dysfunction.

Conclusions and relevance: There is ample evidence to suggest developmental vulnerability of the foetal brain to intrauterine exposures that increases and individual's risk for neuropsychiatric disease, especially the risk of ASD, depression and anxiety. Elucidating the exact timing and mechanisms of injury can be difficult and require novel, non-invasive approaches to the study emerging structural and functional brain development of the foetus. Clinical care should both emphasise maternal health during pregnancy, as well as close, continued monitoring for at risk offspring throughout young adulthood for the early identification and treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases.

Keywords: advanced magnetic resonance imaging; developmental origins; neuropsychiatric disease; prenatal.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / epidemiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Placenta
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Young Adult