Heightened maternal psychological distress during a pandemic may adversely affect the developing fetal brain, according to new research in Nature Communications Medicine.
In the study, more than 200 participants were asked about any distress experienced during pregnancy, in which stress and anxiety were most prevalent during the pandemic.
The study also looked at brain structure and found that three brain structures and volumetric measures were decreased in the fetuses from the pandemic cohort.
“We prospectively enrolled 202 pregnant women: 65 without known COVID-19 exposures during the pandemic who underwent 92 fetal MRI scans, and 137 pre-pandemic controls who had 182 MRI scans,” according to the study’s authors.
“Stress and depression scores are significantly higher in the pandemic cohort, compared to the pre-pandemic cohort,” the authors determined.
“Fetal white matter, hippocampal, and cerebellar volumes are decreased in the pandemic cohort. Cortical surface area and local gyrification index are also decreased in all four lobes, while sulcal depth is lower in the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes in the pandemic cohort, indicating delayed brain gyrification.”
All in all, the authors concluded that impaired fetal brain growth and delayed cerebral cortical gyrification were evident in the coronavirus pandemic era pregnancies.
“The potential long-term neurodevelopmental consequences of altered fetal brain development in COVID-era pregnancies merit further study,” the authors mentioned.