View Full Version : Prenatal Environment and Brain Development(with Citations).

Kunga Dorji
10-20-13, 08:52 PM
There has been much discussion on the forums about stress and brain development, and much disputing of what is actually accepted hard science.
As I am preparing to deliver a lecture on ADHD on 3rd November I have finally made good a previous promise to collect some citations for Amtram.
It has taken me 5 hours to transfer all this material into Word processed form this morning, so I trust that Amtram will understand when I say I will need time to provide the citations for the "Descarte's Error" Hypothesis.

Apologies to Gabor Mate, who is the main source I used to derive the citations.I have however, corresponded with both him, and Oliver James, the author of "The Selfish Capitalist" and do have their permission to use some of their material.

What follows here is an extract of quotes with citations from Chapter 19 of Mate's book in The Realm of The Hungry Ghosts.This book deals primarily with addictions. but, as I have established on another thread, the behavioural traits that put a person at risk for addcition are, in fact the behavioural traits of ADHD.

“It's not that genes don't matter-they certainly do.

It's only that they do not and cannot determine simple behaviours, let alone complex behaviours like addiction.
There not only is no addiction gene, there couldn't be one.

"Our DNA is simply too paltry to spell out a wiring diagram for the human brain".
Research Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA)
Time April 30, 1990, http//,9171,969965,_.html

Current estimates for genetic contribution to addiction (alcoholism 50%, Marijuana use 60-80%, Nicotine 70%, alcoholism and divorce may share the same genetic propensity) are beyond possibility and the logic behind them rests on mistaken assumptions.

Far from being the autonomous dictators of our destinies, genes are controlled by our environment, and without environmental signals they could not function.
The cell's operations are primarily modelled by its interaction with the environment, not by its genetic code. Lipton, B. The Biology of Belief (Santa Rosa CA: Elite Books (2005) 86

Epigenetics is the science of how genes function. As a result of life events chemicals attach themselves to DNA and direct gene activities.
The licking of a rat pup by the mother in the early hours of it's life turns on a gene that helps protect the animal from being overwhelmed by stress in the early hours of its life.

It is now clear that “the early environment, consisting of both the prenatal and postnatal periods, has a profound effect on gene expression and adult patterns of behaviour.”
Colvis C.M. Et al, Epigenetic Mechanisms and Gene networks in the Nervous System” Journal of Neuroscience 25 (45) (November 9, 2005) 10379-89

One example is related to alcohol consumption. A certain variation of a particular gene, found in some monkeys, reduces alcohol's sedative effects and also its disorganising and unpleasant effects on balance and co-ordination. These monkeys can drink greater amounts of alcohol without side effects and are more likely to drink until they are drunk. However it was found that in mother reared monkeys the gene was not expressed- that is, it had no effect on drinking behaviour.
Barr C.S. “Serotonin Transporter Gene Variation is Associated with Alcohol Sensitivity in Rhesus Monkeys Exposed to Early-Life Stress,” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 27 (5) (May 2005) 812-17

“In the past few decades it has become increasingly clear that the development and later behaviour of an immature organism is not only determined by genetic factors and the postnatal environment, but also by the maternal environment during pregnancy.
Weinstock M. et Al “Prenatal Stress Effects on Functional Development of the Offspring” chap 21 in Progress in Brain Research vol 73 Biochemical Basis of Functional Neuroteratology ed G.J. Boer (New York: Elsevier 1988):319-20

Numerous studies in both animals and humans have found that maternal stress or anxiety during pregnancy can lead to a broad range ofproblems in the offspring, from infantile colic to later learning difficulties and the establishment of behavioural and emotional patterns that increase the person's predilection for addiction.
Zelkowitz P. and Papageorgiou A., Maternal Anxiety, an emerging Prognostic Factor in Neonatology Acta Paediatr 94(12) (December 2005) 1771-76
Sondegard C. et al, “Psychosocial Distress during Pregnancy and the risk of Infantile Colic: A Follow-up Study Acta Paediatr 92(7) (July 2003): 811-16
These are two examples only- the full list of studies easily extends into the hundreds (Gabor Mate, In The Realm of The Hungry Ghosts p462).

A recent British study found that children whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy are vulnerable to mental and behavioural problems like ADHD or to being anxious or fearful. Issues such as abuse or violence were particularly damaging, but not the only causes of this association. An estimate was made that this factor was the key cause of about 15% of cases of ADHD in the UK. Prof Glover found that high cortisol in the amniotic fluid bathing the womb correlated with the damage.
(Prof Vivette Glover Imperial College London interviewed on the BBC, 26 January 2007
(for links to her peer reviewed publications).

This study's findings are consistent with previous evidence that stress on the mother during pregnancy affects the brain of the infant, with long term and perhaps permanent effects.
Seckl J.R., “Prenatal Glucocorticoids and Long-Term Preprogramming” European Journal of Endocrinology, 151 (Suppl 3) (2004): U49-U62, quoted in R. Yehuda et al, “Transgenerational Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in babies of Mothers Exposed to the World Trade Centre Attacks during Pregnancy. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 90 (7):4115-18

In the case of the World trade Centre attacks the greatest change was noted in infants whose mothers were in the last three months of pregnancy on September 11, 2011. So the fact that the stage of pregnancy a woman was at was correlated with the degree of cortisol abnormality suggests we are looking at an in utero effect.
R. Yehuda et al, “Transgenerational Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in babies of Mothers Exposed to the World Trade Centre Attacks during Pregnancy. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 90 (7):4115-18

It turns out that during gestation, just as after birth, brain systems undergo sensitive periods of development.

Kunga Dorji
10-20-13, 09:06 PM
A further reference:
Maternal Antenatal Anxiety and Amniotic Fluid Cortisol and Testosterone: Possible Implications for Foetal Programming
P. Sarkar,* K. Bergman,* T. G. O’Connorà and V. Glover*
*Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London, Hammersmith Campus, London, UK.
Centre for Fetal Care, Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital, London, UK. àDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY, USA.

Journal of Neuroendocrinology 20, 489–496(2008)
Conclusions (Abridged)

and the subreferences listed in the paper.
Please excuse the small size- as this entry is resisting any attempt to re-format it. However- it is easy to use the computer to enlarge the necessary area.

This research has shown that the results with amniotic fluid were similar to those found earlier with foetal plasma, suggesting that amniotic fluid is a suitable medium for examining foetal exposure to hormones.
Awaiting amniocentesis was anxiogenic for women, and immi- nent amniocentesis may be used as a non-experimental paradigm to examine the effects of anxiety in pregnant women. There was only a weak correlation between maternal anxiety and maternal plasma cortisol, raising questions about the involvement of the maternal HPA axis in mediating effects of maternal stress or anxi- ety on the foetus. This is further confounded by the finding that the link between maternal anxiety and maternal cortisol was stron- gest before 17 weeks of gestation, whereas the correlation between maternal plasma and amniotic fluid cortisol was most robust after this time.

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Kunga Dorji
10-20-13, 10:32 PM
And now for the implications of the above knowledge on the validity of using the information gained from adoption studies to support a theory of predominantly genetic causation of neurodevelopmental disorders or addictive tendencies:

Again Mate, In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts

It turns out that during gestation, just as after birth, brain systems undergo sensitive periods of development.

We've done work, and a lot of other people have done work, showing that essentially the number and density of dopamine receptors is determined in utero” , psychiatric researcher Bruce Perry told me in an interview.

For these reasons adoption studies cannot determine questions of genetic inheritance (of neuro-developmental problems). Any woman who has to give up her baby for adoption is, by definition, a stressed woman. She is stressed not only because she knows she'll be separated from her baby, but primarily because if she was not stressed in the first place she would not have had to consider giving up her child: the pregnancy was unwanted or the mother was poor, single, or in a bad relationship: or she was an immature teenager who conceived involuntarily, or was a drug user, or was raped, or confronted by some other adversity.

Any of these situations would be enough to put tremendous stress on any person, and for so many months the developing foetus would be exposed to high cortisol levels through the placenta.

This comment is valid logical inference from previously established scientific fact- so no reference or authority is required to support it.

10-21-13, 09:09 AM
Having ADHD is stressful. Add on being pregnant, often when single (this is
statistically significant in ADHD), and you have a stressed mother.

Self-perpetuating ADHD situation?

Even though stress is not likely to be the only cause.

Kunga Dorji
10-21-13, 10:03 AM
Having ADHD is stressful. Add on being pregnant, often when single (this is
statistically significant in ADHD), and you have a stressed mother.

Self-perpetuating ADHD situation?

Even though stress is not likely to be the only cause.

I fully agree on both the "self perpetuating situation" and "the stress is not the only cause" fronts.

In fact, including genetic predispositions I can think of at least 7 major potential causes of ADHD that will interact in unique ways from individual to individual

I was working on a mindmap of all these interlinking causes tonight (writing it on the back of a paper towel while listening to the tedious speeches at my son's year 12 Valedictory Dinner.
(Don't worry- he was as bored as me-- what is it about the neurotypical that they get so much pleasure out of these events???)

Anyhow- that will be ready to present soon, but the next job is to put up a proper analysis of the contribution of birth trauma to the occipitocervical junction to ADHD symptomatology. (One for tomorrow).