Neurobiology of disease

Maternal inflammation induces immune activation of fetal microglia and leads to disrupted microglia immune responses, behavior, and learning performance in adulthood.

PMID 28751257


Maternal inflammation during pregnancy can have detrimental effects on embryonic development that persist during adulthood. However, the underlying mechanisms and insights in the responsible cell types are still largely unknown. Here we report the effect of maternal inflammation on fetal microglia, the innate immune cells of the central nervous system (CNS). In mice, a challenge with LPS during late gestation stages (days 15-16-17) induced a pro-inflammatory response in fetal microglia. Adult whole brain microglia of mice that were exposed to LPS during embryonic development displayed a persistent reduction in pro-inflammatory activation in response to a re-challenge with LPS. In contrast, hippocampal microglia of these mice displayed an increased inflammatory response to an LPS re-challenge. In addition, a reduced expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was observed in hippocampal microglia of LPS-offspring. Microglia-derived BDNF has been shown to be important for learning and memory processes. In line with these observations, behavioral- and learning tasks with mice that were exposed to maternal inflammation revealed reduced home cage activity, reduced anxiety and reduced learning performance in a T-maze. These data show that exposure to maternal inflammation during late gestation results in long term changes in microglia responsiveness during adulthood, which is different in nature in hippocampus compared to total brain microglia.