What if their development had started during pregnancy?

THE ESSENTIAL

  • In France, 600,000 people suffer from schizophrenia.
  • 3-5% of the school population have ADHD.

Low birth weight, lack of oxygen supply, maternal hypertension and prematurity are risk factors for the development of mental disorders in the unborn child, according to a recent study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. During their work, scientists from CHU Sainte-Justine and the University of Montreal took a closer look at two mental disorders: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia. As a reminder, ADHD is characterized by attention deficit, motor hyperactivity, and impulsivity that appear in childhood, and schizophrenia generally presents later, during adolescence between 15 and 25 years of age, with social withdrawal, cognitive difficulties, hallucinations, or delusions.

Determination of susceptibility to mental disorders in pregnancy

The researchers based their work on the assumption that the brain of the fetus could already contain information about the child’s future mental health. Their goal was to determine whether risk factors might influence the development of mental disorders by affecting brain development during pregnancy. Most mental disorders affect the cerebral cortex, also called the gray matter or outer layer of the brain. This change takes place during growth.

For their study, the scientists therefore evaluated image data from more than 27,000 people. This enabled them to compare the surface differences between the cerebral cortices of patients with and without mental disorders. In her opinion, cerebral changes start to appear well after pregnancy, especially at the level of the association cortex, a cerebral zone responsible for the complex operations of information processing. It is these changes that may explain the development of mental disorders, including ADHD and schizophrenia.

Risk factors identified

On the other hand, they also managed to identify certain risk factors for the development of these mental disorders. They believe that low birth weight, insufficient oxygen supply, premature birth or high blood pressure (HTA) in the mother during pregnancy could promote the development of mental illnesses.

“The comprehensive understanding of how perinatal risks can interfere with various cellular and molecular mechanisms will ultimately enable the exploration of new treatment avenues,” conclude the researchers.

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