Prenatal exposure to maternal infection increases the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, including schizophrenia and autism. The molecular processes underlying this pathological association, however, are only partially understood. Here, we combined unbiased genome-wide transcriptional profiling with follow-up epigenetic analyses and structural magnetic resonance imaging to explore convergent molecular and neuromorphological alterations in corticostriatal areas of adult offspring exposed to prenatal immune activation. Genome-wide transcriptional profiling revealed that prenatal immune activation caused a differential expression of 116 and 251 genes in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, respectively. A large part of genes that were commonly affected in both brain areas were related to myelin functionality and stability. Subsequent epigenetic analyses indicated that altered DNA methylation of promoter regions might contribute to the differential expression of myelin-related genes. Quantitative relaxometry comparing T1, T2, and myelin water fraction revealed sparse increases in T1 relaxation times and consistent reductions in T2 relaxation times. Together, our multi-system approach demonstrates that prenatal viral-like immune activation causes myelin-related transcriptional and epigenetic changes in corticostriatal areas. Even though these abnormalities do not seem to be associated with overt white matter reduction, they may provide a molecular mechanism whereby prenatal infection can impair myelin functionality and stability.
- Journal Article