Temple University has published a new study via Schizophrenia Research linking immune system response during pregnancy to risk of schizophrenia later in life. According to the publication, women who suffer from flu and other infections during pregnancy are more apt to give birth to children with schizophrenia. In some cases, the risk could be increased seven fold.

When the body fights off infection, proteins are released into the bloodstream. In some cases, this protein can affect brain development leading to damage and schizophrenia. The main author of the study, Lauren Ellman of Temple University, noted that not every case resulted in mental impairment. This leads researchers to believe some other environmental factor must be in play to promote brain damage via immune system proteins.

A previous study completed by Ellman showed a link between influenza and schizophrenia, but the reason behind the link was not revealed. Ellman states, “...it appears that the damaging effects to the fetus are related to these maternal responses to infection during pregnancy rather than to the infections themselves.”

Ellman’s study results came from blood samples from women taken between 1950 and 1960. Approximately 12,000 samples were evaluated. In some cases, interleukin-8, a proinflammatory cytokine associated with immune system response, was elevated. The control group blood samples also showed signs of increased interleukin-8 but not every increase was linked to schizophrenia. Further study needs to be completed to find the secondary cause of schizophrenia which causes interleukin-8 to affect some fetuses and not others.

Source: Lauren Ellman, Temple University. Schizophrenia Research. 12 August 2010.