Anxiety might develop in the womb

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fetusWhen certain hormones are missing in the womb, the deprived fetus might be at a greater risk of suffering from high anxiety later in life. Researchers at Cardiff University are interested in how disrupting the delicate balance of hormones during fetal development can influence emotional behaviors as an adult.

Development is very complex, with lots of control mechanisms in place to ensure nutrients required for growth and development are supplied by the mother. Insulin-like growth factor-2 appears to play a key role in fetal and placental development in mammals. Changes in this hormone’s expression are implicated in growth restriction of developing babies.

The group at Cardiff University examined the behavior of adult mice that had a disrupted supply of Insulin-like growth factor-2 during development. The disruption caused an imbalance in the supply of nutrients controlled by the placenta, which in turn affected the adult behavior of the mice. Symptoms were accompanied by specific changes in brain gene expression related to anxiety and are the first example of “placental-programming” of adult behavior.

It is not yet known how these early disruptive events cause long-range effects. But this suggests that our behavior and susceptibility to brain and mental health issues are developed earlier than previously thought. Findings could have wide implications on human development through investigation of brain mechanisms linking early life events, placental function, and emotional behavior.

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