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Male fetus susceptibility to maternal inflammation: C-reactive protein and brain development

  • Sharon K Hunter (a1), M. Camille Hoffman (a1) (a2), Angelo D'Alessandro (a3), Kathleen Noonan (a1), Anna Wyrwa (a1), Robert Freedman (a1) and Amanda J. Law (a1) (a4)...



Maternal inflammation in early pregnancy has been identified epidemiologically as a prenatal pathogenic factor for the offspring's later mental illness. Early newborn manifestations of the effects of maternal inflammation on human fetal brain development are largely unknown.


Maternal infection, depression, obesity, and other factors associated with inflammation were assessed at 16 weeks gestation, along with maternal C-reactive protein (CRP), cytokines, and serum choline. Cerebral inhibition was assessed by inhibitory P50 sensory gating at 1 month of age, and infant behavior was assessed by maternal ratings at 3 months of age.


Maternal CRP diminished the development of cerebral inhibition in newborn males but paradoxically increased inhibition in females. Similar sex-dependent effects were seen in mothers' assessment of their infant's self-regulatory behaviors at 3 months of age. Higher maternal choline levels partly mitigated the effect of CRP in male offspring.


The male fetal-placental unit appears to be more sensitive to maternal inflammation than females. Effects are particularly marked on cerebral inhibition. Deficits in cerebral inhibition 1 month after birth, similar to those observed in several mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, indicate fetal developmental pathways that may lead to later mental illness. Deficits in early infant behavior follow. Early intervention before birth, including prenatal vitamins, folate, and choline supplements, may help prevent fetal development of pathophysiological deficits that can have life-long consequences for mental health.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Sharon K. Hunter, E-mail:


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Male fetus susceptibility to maternal inflammation: C-reactive protein and brain development

  • Sharon K Hunter (a1), M. Camille Hoffman (a1) (a2), Angelo D'Alessandro (a3), Kathleen Noonan (a1), Anna Wyrwa (a1), Robert Freedman (a1) and Amanda J. Law (a1) (a4)...


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