Researchers have long focused on genetic factors related to conditions such as schizophrenia, but a new study suggests that these genes affect both brain development itself and a baby’s environment before birth, which work together to increase risk.
A study by the Lieber Institute for Brain Development shows that environment and genetics work together to cause mental health conditions. They found that children with a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia were five times more likely to develop it if their mothers experienced pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia before their births.
Complications with the placenta can cause inflammation that activates existing genes, according to lead researcher and Lieber Institute CEO Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger. In turn, those activated genes contribute to inflammation in the placenta that exacerbates genetic risk.
“For the first time, we have found an explanation for the connection between early life complications, genetic risk, and their impact on mental illness and it all converges on the placenta,” Dr. Weinberger said. The Lieber Institute continues to research links between early development and mental health conditions to inform treatment.