Study finds maternal exposure to parasitic infection may increase risk of schizophrenia in offspring

A study published last month in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests an association between maternal exposure to toxoplasmosis and increased risk for developing schizophrenia in adult children. The study, which evaluated archived blood samples from pregnant women who participated in a large birth cohort called the Child Health and Development Study (CHDS) from 19591967, was conducted by researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Plan, Northern California Region.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can develop from eating undercooked meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables, drinking contaminated water, or not washing one's hands after gardening or changing cat litter boxes. Researchers found a potential link between high maternal toxoplasmosis gondii antibody titers and development of schizophrenia spectrum disorders in the adult offspring. No association was found for moderate antibody titers. While active toxoplasmosis infection is known to adversely affect fetal brain development, this is the first suggestion of a possible association between an elevated maternal antibody to toxoplasmosis and the risk of schizophrenia.

"These findings underscore the value of prenatal serologic samples to document how maternal infectious disease exposures affect the development of adult disorders over time," said Alan Brown, MD, lead author and associate professor of clinical psychiatry and epidemiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University and Mailman School of Public Health. Since publication of this study, another group presented similar findings at a recent scientific conference. Their study, based in Denmark, also suggests a potential link between elevated levels of maternal toxoplasmosis gondii antibody and increased risk for schizophrenia amon

Contact: Stephanie Berger
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

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