Study Shows How Infections in Newborns are Linked to Later Behavior Problems

Posted on October 18, 2013

“What’s important is that the timing of the inflammation during brain development switches the brain’s gears from development to trying to deal with inflammation.”

Researchers exploring the link between newborn infections and later behavior and movement problems have found that inflammation in the brain keeps cells from accessing iron that they need to perform a critical role in brain development.

Specific cells in the brain need iron to produce the white matter that ensures efficient communication among cells in the central nervous system. White matter refers to white-colored bundles of myelin, a protective coating on the axons that project from the main body of a brain cell.

The scientists induced a mild E. coli infection in 3-day-old mice. This caused a transient inflammatory response in their brains that was resolved within 72 hours. This brain inflammation, though fleeting, interfered with storage and release of iron, temporarily resulting in reduced iron availability in the brain. When the iron was needed most, it was unavailable, researchers say.

“What’s important is that the timing of the inflammation during brain development switches the brain’s gears from development to trying to deal with inflammation,” said Jonathan Godbout, associate professor of neuroscience at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “The consequence of that is this abnormal iron storage by neurons that limits access of iron to the rest of the brain.”

The cells that need iron during this critical period of development are called oligodendrocytes, which produce myelin and wrap it around axons. In the current study, neonatal infection caused neurons to increase their storage of iron, which deprived iron from oligodendrocytes.

In other mice, the scientists confirmed that neonatal E. coli infection was associated with motor coordination problems and hyperactivity two months later – the equivalent to young adulthood in humans. The brains of these same mice contained lower levels of myelin and fewer oligodendrocytes, suggesting that brief reductions in brain-iron availability during early development have long-lasting effects on brain myelination.


Source material from The Ohio State University


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