Repeated allergic asthma in early versus late pregnancy differentially impacts offspring brain and behavior development

Jamie S. Church, Juan M. Tamayo, Paul Ashwood, Jared J. Schwartzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Stress during pregnancy and maternal inflammation are two common prenatal factors that impact offspring development. Asthma is the leading chronic condition complicating pregnancy and a common source of prenatal stress and inflammation. Objective: The goal of this study was to characterize the developmental impact of repeated allergic asthma inflammation during pregnancy on offspring behavioral outcomes and brain inflammation. Methods: Pregnant female C57BL/6 mice were sensitized with ovalbumin (OVA) or PBS vehicle control and then randomly assigned to receive daily aerosol exposures to the same OVA or PBS treatment during early, gestational days (GD) 2-GD9, or late pregnancy, GD10-GD17. Maternal sera were collected after the first and last aerosol induction regimen and measured for concentrations of corticosterone, anti-OVA IgE, and cytokine profiles. Juvenile male and female offspring were assessed for locomotor and social behaviors and later as adults assessed for anxiety-like, and marble burying behaviors using a series of behavioral tasks. Offspring brains were evaluated for region-specific differences in cytokine concentrations. Results: In early gestation, both PBS and OVA-exposed dams had similar serum corticosterone concentration at the start (GD2) and end (GD9) of daily aerosol inductions. Only OVA-exposed dams showed elevations in cytokines that imply a diverse and robust T helper cell-mediated immune response. Male offspring of early OVA-exposed dams showed decreases in open-arm exploration in the elevated plus maze and increased marble burying without concomitant changes in locomotor activity or social interactions. These behavioral deficits in early OVA-exposed male offspring were associated with lower concentrations of G-CSF, IL-4, IL-7, IFNγ, and TNFα in the hypothalamus. In late gestation, both PBS and OVA-exposed dams had increased corticosterone levels at the end of daily aerosol inductions (GD17) compared to at the start of inductions (GD10). Male offspring from both PBS and OVA-exposed dams in late gestation showed similar decreases in open arm exploration on the elevated plus maze compared to OVA male offspring exposed in early gestation. No behavioral differences were present in female offspring across all treatment groups. However, females of dams exposed to OVA during early gestation displayed similar reductions as males in hypothalamic G-CSF, IL-7, IL-4, and IFNγ. Discussion: The inflammatory responses from maternal allergic asthma in early gestation and resulting increases in anxiety-like behavior in males support a link between the timing of prenatal insults and sex-specific developmental outcomes. Moreover, the heightened stress responses in late gestation and concomitant dampened inflammatory response to allergic asthma suggest that interactions between the maternal immune and stress-response systems shape early life fetal programming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-79
Number of pages14
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Allergic asthma
  • Autism
  • Behavior
  • Corticosterone
  • Cytokines
  • Mouse
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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