Prenatal developmental origins of behavior and mental health: The influence of maternal stress in pregnancy

Bea R H Van den Bergh, Marion I van den Heuvel, Marius Lahti, Marijke Braeken, Susanne R de Rooij, Sonja Entringer, Dirk Hoyer, Tessa Roseboom, Katri Räikkönen, Suzanne King, Matthias Schwab

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Accumulating research shows that prenatal exposure to maternal stress increases the risk for behavioral and mental health problems later in life. This review systematically analyzes the available human studies to identify harmful stressors, vulnerable periods during pregnancy, specificities in the outcome and biological correlates of the relation between maternal stress and offspring outcome. Effects of maternal stress on offspring neurodevelopment, cognitive development, negative affectivity, difficult temperament and psychiatric disorders are shown in numerous epidemiological and case-control studies. Offspring of both sexes are susceptible to prenatal stress but effects differ. There is not any specific vulnerable period of gestation; prenatal stress effects vary for different gestational ages possibly depending on the developmental stage of specific brain areas and circuits, stress system and immune system. Biological correlates in the prenatally stressed offspring are: aberrations in neurodevelopment, neurocognitive function, cerebral processing, functional and structural brain connectivity involving amygdalae and (pre)frontal cortex, changes in hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis and autonomous nervous system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-64
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date28 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


Tessa Roseboom, Matthias Schwab and Bea R.H. Van den Bergh, received support from EU FP7/Health.2011.2.22-2, GA2798219. Marius Lahti and Katri R?ikk?nen received funding from Academy of Finland and University of Helsinki. Katri R?ikk?nen also received funding from Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation. Suzanne King received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for Project Ice Storm (MOP-111177), the Iowa Flood Study (MOP-93660), and the QF2011 Queensland Flood Study (MOP-1150067). The funding source had no involvement in the preparation of the manuscript.

FundersFunder number
EU FP7/Health
Medical Research CouncilMC_PC_15018


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