Maternal immune activation (MIA) caused by exposure to pathogens or inflammation during critical periods of neurodevelopment is a major risk factor for behavioral deficits and psychiatric illness in offspring. A spectrum of behavioral abnormalities can be recapitulated in rodents by inducing MIA using the viral mimetic, PolyI:C. Many studies have focused on long-term changes in brain structure and behavioral outcomes in offspring following maternal PolyI:C exposure, but acute changes in prenatal development are not well-characterized. Using RNA-Sequencing, we profiled acute transcriptomic changes in rat conceptuses (decidua along with nascent embryo and placenta) after maternal PolyI:C exposure during early gestation, which enabled us to capture gene expression changes provoked by MIA inclusive to the embryonic milieu. We identified a robust increase in expression of genes related to antiviral inflammation following maternal PolyI:C exposure, and a corresponding decrease in transcripts associated with nervous system development. At mid-gestation, regions of the developing cortex were thicker in fetuses prenatally challenged with PolyI:C, with females displaying a thicker ventricular zone and males a thicker cortical mantle. Along these lines, neural precursor cells (NPCs) isolated from fetal brains prenatally challenged with PolyI:C exhibited a higher rate of self-renewal. Expression of Notch1 and the Notch ligand, delta-like ligand 1, which are both highly implicated in maintenance of NPCs and nervous system development, was increased following PolyI:C exposure. These results suggest that MIA elicits rapid gene expression changes within the conceptus, including repression of neurodevelopmental pathways, resulting in profound alterations in fetal brain development.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/susanne-schmid/33/