Preeclampsia and neurodevelopmental outcomes: Potential pathogenic roles for inflammation and oxidative stress?

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Barron, Aaron
McCarthy, Cathal
O'Keeffe, Gerard W.
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Preeclampsia (PE) is a common and serious hypertensive disorder of pregnancy that occurs in approximately 3–5% of first-time pregnancies and is a well-known leading cause of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity. In recent years, there has been accumulating evidence that in utero exposure to PE acts as an environmental risk factor for various neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. At present, the mechanism(s) mediating this relationship are uncertain. In this review, we outline the most recent evidence implicating a causal role for PE exposure in the aetiology of various neurodevelopmental disorders and provide a novel interpretation of neuroanatomical alterations in PE-exposed offspring and how these relate to their sub-optimal neurodevelopmental trajectory. We then postulate that inflammation and oxidative stress, two prominent features of the pathophysiology of PE, are likely to play a major role in mediating this association. The increased inflammation in the maternal circulation, placenta and fetal circulation in PE expose the offspring to both prenatal maternal immune activation—a risk factor for neurodevelopmental disorders, which has been well-characterised in animal models—and directly higher concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which adversely affect neuronal development. Similarly, the exaggerated oxidative stress in the mother, placenta and foetus induces the placenta to secrete factors deleterious to neurons, and exposes the fetal brain to directly elevated oxidative stress and thus adversely affects neurodevelopmental processes. Finally, we describe the interplay between inflammation and oxidative stress in PE, and how both systems interact to potentially alter neurodevelopmental trajectory in exposed offspring.
Preeclampsia , Neurodevelopmental disorder , Autism Spectrum disorder , Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder Inflammation , Oxidative stress
Barron, A., McCarthy, C. and O'Keeffe, G. W. (2021) 'Preeclampsia and neurodevelopmental outcomes: Potential pathogenic roles for inflammation and oxidative stress?', Molecular Neurobiology. doi: 10.1007/s12035-021-02290-4
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© 2021, the Authors, under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature. This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Molecular Neurobiology. The final authenticated version is available online at: