John G. Howland PhD, University of Saskatchewan
Talk Title: Maternal Immune Activation during Pregnancy as a Risk Factor for Psychiatric Disorders in the Offspring
Brain & Behaviour Seminar Series 2014-2015
Reception to follow in the Psychology Lounge, room 4043, Sidney Smith Hall
Abstract: According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness at some points during their lives. Although there is strong evidence showing the genetic causes of some psychiatric disorders, recent studies have indicated that the environment also plays a major role in the development of psychiatric disorders, in particular schizophrenia. One such factor contributing to psychiatric disorders in adulthood is prenatal infection, or exposure to an infection while in utero. My research explores this connection by using rat models. We have recently shown an array of behavioural changes in the offspring of pregnant rats exposed to polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid (polyI:C), a synthetic analogue of double-stranded RNA recognized as a virus by the mammalian immune system. Impaired prepulse inhibition, associative recognition memory, and executive functions were observed. I will also discuss on-going experiments in my laboratory that use pharmacological strategies to block the effects of PolyI:C in pregnant rats before the cascade of events leading to psychiatric symptoms is triggered. We are particularly interested in chemokines, a subclass of cytokines, which are produced in response to infection. Levels of chemokines in human pregnancies are correlated with schizophrenia in the offspring; thus, they are of particular interest as a risk factor for the disorder. By combining immunological research related to infection with that focused on psychiatric disorders, I propose an approach to treating psychiatric disorders that focuses on prevention rather than the treatment of symptoms.
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