Maternal asthma symptoms during pregnancy on child behaviour and executive function: A Bayesian phenomics approach

Brain Behav Immun. 2024 May:118:202-209. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2024.02.028. Epub 2024 Feb 25.


Objective: Maternal history of inflammatory conditions has been linked to offspring developmental and behavioural outcomes. This phenomenon may be explained by the maternal immune activation (MIA) hypothesis, which posits that dysregulation of the gestational immune environment affects foetal neurodevelopment. The timing of inflammation is critical. We aimed to understand maternal asthma symptoms during pregnancy, in contrast with paternal asthma symptoms during the same period, on child behaviour problems and executive function in a population-based cohort.

Methods: Data were obtained from 844 families from the Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) birth cohort. Parent asthma symptoms during the prenatal period were reported. Asthma symptoms in children were reported longitudinally from two to five years old, while behavioural problems and executive functioning were obtained at seven years old. Parent and child measures were compared between mothers with and without prenatal asthma symptoms. Generalized linear and Bayesian phenomics models were used to determine the relation between parent or child asthma symptoms and child outcomes.

Results: Children of mothers with prenatal asthma symptoms had greater behavioural and executive problems than controls (Cohen's d: 0.43-0.75; all p < 0.05). This association remained after adjustments for emerging asthma symptoms during the preschool years and fathers' asthma symptoms during the prenatal period. After adjusting for dependence between child outcomes, the Bayesian phenomics model showed that maternal prenatal asthma symptoms were associated with child internalising symptoms and higher-order executive function, while child asthma symptoms were associated with executive function skills. Paternal asthma symptoms during the prenatal period were not associated with child outcomes.

Conclusions: Associations between child outcomes and maternal but not paternal asthma symptoms during the prenatal period suggests a role for MIA. These findings need to be validated in larger samples, and further research may identify behavioural and cognitive profiles of children with exposure to MIA.

Keywords: Asthma; Behavioural problems; Executive function; Maternal immune activation; Phenomics; Wheezing.

MeSH terms

  • Asthma*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Child
  • Child Behavior
  • Child, Preschool
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Phenomics
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*