Description: At the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting last week, Tracy Bale, Section Head in ‘Neural homeostasis’, talked to us about her research on how stress dysregulation underlies neuropsychiatric disease.
It seems that there is truth behind the age-old belief that stress in pregnancy can harm the child. Tracy explains that stress experienced by the mother in early pregnancy can determine sex differences in how the offspring deal with stress. Early prenatal stress changes the microRNA environment in the brain of the offspring, affecting the male prenatal testosterone surge, which is thought to be the key factor behind gender identity development.
Tracy believes that these pathways could account for the sex biases in neurodevelopmental diseases such as autism, where boys are 4 times more likely than girls to be affected. And the next step in this research? Tracing what genes these micro RNAs target, so that in the future we may be able to intervene to alter the affects of prenatal stress.