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30-06-2011 | Mental health | Article

Maternal infection points to neuropsychological deficits in schizophrenia


Free abstract

MedWire News: Deficits in verbal memory and motor function in schizophrenia are associated with maternal genital/reproductive (G/R) infections in African-American but not White patients, US scientists have discovered.

Previous studies have associated maternal exposure to G/R infections with the development of schizophrenia. Although schizophrenia patients have impairments in neuropsychological functions such as verbal memory, working memory, executive function, and fine-motor coordination, it is not clear whether these impairments are linked to G/R infections.

Alan Brown (Columbia University, New York) and colleagues therefore studied 25 men and women for whom complete data on neuropsychological performance and maternal G/R infection status were available. Thirteen of the participants had schizophrenia, six had schizoaffective disorder, and six had other schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

The team notes in the journal Psychiatry Research that there were no significant demographic differences between the 11 cases exposed to maternal G/R infection and the 14 unexposed cases, although there was a greater prevalence of exposure among individuals born to African-American than White mothers.

Maternal G/R infection exposure was associated with significant reductions in performance on verbal memory and fine-motor coordination tests, and there was a strong trend for association with working memory.

Stratification by race demonstrated that, while there were few neuropsychological differences between exposed and unexposed White sons and daughters, exposure to maternal G/R infection was associated with significantly worse verbal memory performance, a trend for worse fine-motor coordination, and a significantly longer time to completion of the fine-motor coordination task compared with non-exposure among African-American sons and daughters.

Further analysis showed that there was a significant race and G/R infection exposure interaction on both verbal memory and fine-motor coordination. Similar findings were obtained when the sample was restricted to schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.

The team says: "This work has the potential to shed light on the role of prenatal infections and other environmental factors in [neuropsychological] abnormalities.

"Moreover, these findings suggest that straightforward and relatively inexpensive approaches, many of which exist presently, to prevent and treat maternal G/R infections prior to and during pregnancy may result in a reduction in core neurocognitive impairments in schizophrenia."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Liam Davenport

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