PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- A pregnant woman's reaction to flu, viruses and other infections may increase the risk of schizophrenia in her child, U.S. researchers suggest.
Lauren Ellman of Temple University in Philadelphia and colleagues say exposure during pregnancy to certain immune proteins -- such as those produced in response to the flu -- raises the risk of giving birth to offspring who develop brain alterations associated with schizophrenia.
The study, published in the journal Schizophrenia Research, finds a direct correlation between structural brain changes among offspring diagnosed with schizophrenia and increases in maternal levels of a protein produced by the immune system called interleukin-8.
"Now, it appears that the damaging effects to the fetus are related to these maternal responses to infection during pregnancy rather than to the infections themselves," Ellman says in a statement.
However, Ellman says not all of the children of mothers showing an increase in the immune protein developed brain alterations.
Ellman and colleagues looked at archived blood samples drawn during the 1950s and 1960s from a group of 12,000 pregnant women whose pregnancies along with their offspring were tracked.