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Bacteria may transfer mom's stress to fetus

Expecting mice under pressure passed altered microbes to their pups, affecting the babies’ brains

8:05am, November 13, 2013

SAN DIEGO — When stress during pregnancy disrupts a growing baby’s brain, blame bacteria. Microbes take part in an elaborate chain reaction, a new study finds: First, stress changes the populations of bacteria dwelling in a pregnant mouse’s vagina; those changes then affect which bacteria colonize a newborn pup’s gut; and the altered gut bacteria change the newborn’s brain.

The research, presented at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting, may help explain how a stressful environment early in life can make a person more susceptible to disorders such as autism or schizophrenia. The finding also highlights the important and still mysterious ways that the bacteria living in bodies can influence the brain.

“This is really fascinating and promising work,” said neuroscientist Cory Burghy of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “I am excited to take a look at how these systems interact in humans,” she said.

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