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Stress in early life is well documented as detrimental for the brain’s developmental trajectory, while prenatal stress is minimally explored. In the prenatal period, the placenta prevents much of the mother’s cortisol from reaching the fetus, but the fetus is still exposed to some maternal cortisol, and exposure increases with increasing stress. One neural structure particularly susceptible to stress is the hippocampus. The goal of this review is to address the role prenatal stress may play in damaging the hippocampus, a structure integral to learning and memory functions. Correlations between prenatal stress and a reduction in volume and function of the hippocampus are evidenced in rodent and non-human primate studies, but less conclusive in humans. In addition to macroscopic changes, microscopic hippocampal changes in glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptor numbers are addressed to show how prenatal stress can reduce feedback inhibition of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, thus potentially increasing infants’ stress reactivity in the postnatal period. Awareness of the role of stress in pregnancy could change the way prenatal visits are structured, and high-risk women could be connected with necessary resources to reduce exposure to ongoing stressors in the perinatal period.
Murray, Alyssa, "The Impact of Prenatal Stress on the Development of Limbic System Structures" (2014). Honors Theses. 2588.
Honors Thesis-Open Access