Prenatal allergies prompt sexual changes in offspring

Posted on July 31, 2019

Male offspring also showed, for the first time, an allergic reaction in the mother could potentially alter the sexual development of its offspring. The consequences of this allergic response are potential changes in the female’s brain to look like a male’s brain and it will endure throughout its entire life.

Sexual development occurs on a spectrum and, in and of themselves, these shifts in sexual behavior after allergy exposure are not particularly troubling, Lenz said. They do help researchers understand the interplay between allergens and brain development, however, and highlight that early life immune activation could be a source of normal variations in female behavior, which haven't been as well-studied.

These types of brain changes could also contribute to an allergen could mean changes in other areas of concern, like cognitive development. Researchers aimed to see if an allergic exposure that activated these cells would change typical development.

Research team studied their pups into adulthood. Females born to mothers that had an allergic reaction during pregnancy exhibited higher levels of behavior normally attributed to males. They mounted other females more often and were as quick to mount another female as typical male rat. They also were drawn to bedding that smelled like other females. Furthermore, they had increases in brain cells called mast cells and microglia and evidence of more synapses in the brain -- changes that looked more like what the researchers would expect in a male rat.

Males born to the allergy-exposed mothers behaved less like typical male rats. They had less interest in mounting and less interest in female bedding. The researchers also saw less activation of microglia and fewer synapses -- both of which point to a change in the rats as a result of the allergen exposure that made them more like females, Lenz said.

Lenz said she was especially interested in the profound changes seen in female brain development, because that's an area that hasn't been as well-studied in neuroscience. However, this study requires more research to explore how medications and other factors during pregnancy may contribute to developmental changes in the fetus.

Category(s):Child Development

Source material from Science Daily

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