Malaria infection during pregnancy may result in learning and memory related problems in offspring, suggests new research.
This is because maternal malaria infection alters the formation of blood vessels in the brains of exposed offspring.
The exposed fetus has smaller blood vessels in its brain than the control fetus, the findings showed.
These results “highlight a novel mechanism by which malaria in pregnancy may alter the neurocognitive development of millions of children prior to birth”, the researchers said.
In this study, Kevin Kain, from the University of Toronto, Canada, and colleagues specifically examined neurocognitive function in mice of normal birth weight that had been exposed to — but not themselves infected with — malaria in the uterus.
The researchers found that young mice that had been exposed to malaria in pregnancy have impaired learning and memory and show depressive-like behaviour that persists to adulthood.
These neurocognitive impairments are associated with decreased tissue levels of major neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) in specific
regions of the brain.
By imaging blood vessels in the uterus, the researchers also saw changes in neurovascular development in the brain of
malaria-exposed mouse fetuses.
The findings appeared in the journal PLOS Pathogens.