There is extensive epidemiological and preclinical evidence that prenatal exposure to maternal immune activation (MIA) triggered by a viral infection acts as a ‘disease primer’, increasing the risk of multiple neurodevelopmental (e.g. autism spectrum disorder; schizophrenia), neurological (epilepsy; cerebral palsy) and mental health (mood disorders; anxiety) difficulties in the offspring.
This project addresses a question which is critical for understanding the impact of Covid 19, its management, and its legacy: does SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnancy adversely affect perinatal brain development?
There is anxiety amongst pregnant women about adverse fetal effects from Covid 19, and it is an urgent responsibility to determine if severe, mild or asymptomatic disease in pregnancy affects the fetus, not least because the current pandemic may contribute significantly to future neurocognitive and mental health problems which could be ameliorated by prompt public health interventions.
We will carry out MRI brain scan of the fetuses, neonates and infants exposed to maternal infection with Covid 19 while in utero; and control non-exposed children. We will follow-up the development of these children using existing infrastructure and examine whether individual differences in brain MRI indices due to MIA exposure predicts early childhood outcomes.
By following-up the children scanned in this study we will take the essential first step towards identifying preventive and intervention strategies for those children whose development may be adversely impacted by prenatal exposure to SARS-COV2 or another trigger of maternal inflammation during prenatal life. This has wide implications for securing the potential of a generation in utero during the Covid 19 pandemic and for public health strategy beyond Covid 19.
Multidisciplinary: research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic. McAlonan, G. M., Murphy, D. G. M. & Edwards, A. D., Jul 2020, In : The Lancet Psychiatry. 7, 7, p. e35
Dietary supplementation with n-3 fatty acids from weaning limits brain biochemistry and behavioral changes elicited by prenatal exposure to maternal inflammation in the mouse model.
Li, Q., Leung, Y. O., .... & McAlonan, G. M., 22 Sep 2015, (Accepted/In press) In : Translational psychiatry. 5, e641.
The Timing and Specificity of Prenatal Immune Risk Factors for Autism Modeled in the Mouse and Relevance to Schizophrenia
McAlonan, G., Li, Q. & Cheung, C., Feb 2010, In : Neurosignals. 18, 2, p. 129-139
Heterogeneity in Brain Microstructural Development Following Preterm Birth
Dimitrova, R., Pietsch, M., Christiaens, D., ..... & 4 others, , 1 Sep 2020, In : Cerebral Cortex. 30, 9, p. 4800-4810
Emerging functional connectivity differences in newborn infants vulnerable to autism spectrum disorders
Ciarrusta, J., Dimitrova, R., Batalle, D., ... & McAlonan, G., 1 Dec 2020, In : Translational psychiatry. 10, 1, 131.
Professor David Edwards, King's College London
Professor Declan Murphy, King's College London
Professor Lucilla Poston, King's College London
Professor Emily Jones, Birbeck College London