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Brain imaging study

We are proud to announce that our study has been completed! Each participant has been very important for this study. We thank you all for your precious contribution that has made this project a success. Here you will find a summary of the study that took place in 2009-2010!


brain scan

Some hypothesize that stress during pregnancy, known as prenatal maternal stress (PNMS), may result in the damage of the developing fetal brain, in particular to hippocampus. In animals, PNMS increases fetal exposure to glucocorticoids (or cortisol in humans), which in turn appear to damage hippocampal development, and thus affect development of the fetal HPA axis. The hippocampus is involved in cognitive and behavioral/emotional functioning; thus PNMS in humans may induce hippocampal damage which may be responsible for the effects we have found in cognitive and behavioral functioning.

The objectives of this study were to determine the extent to which varying degrees of PNMS and its timing during pregnancy, and levels of maternal cortisol obtained following the crisis, affected: i) brain morphology in human children, ii) continued intellectual, linguistic, and behavioral/emotional development. Likewise, we wished to determine whether differences in brain morphology (if observed) are related to: i) the children’s intellectual, linguistic, and behavioral/emotional development, ii) previously observed dermatological asymmetries, and iii) levels of maternal integrated cortisol levels.

We recruited 69 boys and girls from our Ice Storm cohort, born between January and September 1998, and 60 subjects born one year earlier, for study at age 11 years. Computational analysis of high-resolution structural magnetic-resonance (MR) images were used to assess individual and group differences in brain structure as a function of prenatal stress. The children’s intellectual, linguistic, and behavioral/emotional functioning were assessed using standardized scales. Maternal personality, anxiety levels, and previous life experiences were assessed using standardized scales.