Associations between prenatal maternal stress, maternal inflammation during pregnancy, and children's internalizing and externalizing symptoms throughout childhood

Zahra M Clayborne*, Runyu Zou, Stephen E Gilman, Golam M Khandaker, Deshayne B Fell, Ian Colman, Hanan El Marroun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Maternal immune activation is a potential mechanism underlying associations between maternal stress during pregnancy and offspring mental health problems. This study examined associations between prenatal maternal stress, maternal inflammation during pregnancy, and children's internalizing and externalizing symptoms from 3 to 10 years of age, and whether maternal inflammation mediated the associations between prenatal maternal stress and children's internalizing and externalizing symptoms.

METHODS: This study comprised 4,902 mother-child dyads in the Generation R study. Prenatal maternal stress was assessed using self-reported data collected during pregnancy and analyzed as a latent variable consisting of four stress domains. Maternal inflammation during pregnancy was assessed using serum concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP) measured at a median of 13.5 weeks' gestation. Child internalizing and externalizing symptoms were assessed using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) by maternal report at ages 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years; paternal-reported CBCL data were also available at 3 years and 10 years.

RESULTS: Prenatal maternal stress was associated with maternal-reported internalizing and externalizing symptoms of the child at 3, 5, and 10 years of age, and with paternal-reported internalizing and externalizing symptoms at 3 and 10 years. Prenatal maternal stress was associated with maternal CRP concentrations prior to, but not after, covariate adjustment. Maternal CRP concentrations during pregnancy were associated with paternal-reported internalizing symptoms of offspring at 10 years of age prior to, but not after, covariate adjustment. There was no evidence that CRP concentrations mediated the associations between prenatal maternal stress and children's internalizing or externalizing symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS: Maternal stress during pregnancy is associated with higher levels of internalizing and externalizing symptoms in children, but this association is not because of differences in maternal immune activation linked to maternal stress. Replication of these findings in other cohorts is required; examination of other biomarkers or variation in immune activity during pregnancy would also benefit from further exploration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-172
Number of pages8
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Volume114
Early online date20 Aug 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Cohort study
  • Externalizing symptoms
  • Inflammation
  • Internalizing symptoms
  • Prenatal stress

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