The placenta is an amazing organ responsible for sustaining a pregnancy and the growing baby. However, the placenta isn’t just an organ that carries oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus. When a mother is experiencing stress it also gets translated to the baby, altering the baby’s brain development.
“According to a new study by a research group from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, if a mother is exposed to stress during pregnancy, her placenta translates that experience to her fetus by altering levels of a protein that affects the developing brains of male and female offspring differently.” Source
Exposure to maternal stress may even be linked to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, especially in boys. Researchers now have a marker that communicates to the fetus that the mother is under stress.
“In a genome-wide screen of the female’s placentas, one gene stood out as meeting the researchers’ criteria: Ogt, an X-linked gene that codes for the enzyme O-linked-N-acetylglucosamine transferase (OGT). Placentas from male offspring had lower levels of OGT than those from female offspring, and all placentas from stressed mothers had lower levels than placentas from their unstressed counterparts…Together, the results suggest that the OGT enzyme may be acting to protect the brain during gestation but that males have less of this protective enzyme to begin with, placing them at an increased risk of abnormal neurodevelopment if their mother is stressed during pregnancy.” www.upenn.edu
If OGT truly is a biomarker for maternal stress and neurodevelopmental disease, it could make it easier to detect a neurodevelopmental disease earlier in high risk children.