The enduring effect of prenatal protein malnutrition on brain anatomy, physiology and behavior.

Academic Article


  • There is increasing evidence that the maternal environment exerts enduring influences on the fetal brain. In response to certain environmental stimuli such as reduced protein content, the fetus changes the course of its brain development, which leads to specific and programed changes in brain anatomy and physiology. These alterations produce a brain with a fundamentally altered organization, which then translates to alterations in adult cognitive function. The effects on brain and behavior may be linked, such that a prenatal stimulus relays a signal to alter brain development and encourage the selection and development of brain circuits and behaviors that would be beneficial for the environment in which the animal was anticipated to emerge. At the same time, the signal would deselect behaviors unlikely to be adaptive. We draw on evidence from rodent models to suggest that the brain that develops after a reduction in protein during the prenatal phase is not uniformly dysfunctional, but simply different. This perspective has implications for the role of prenatal factors in the production and expression of behavior, and may account for the elevation of risk factors for neurological and psychiatric illnesses.
  • Authors

  • Rushmore, RJ
  • McGaughy, Jill
  • Mokler, DJ
  • Rosene, DL
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • July 2022
  • Published In


  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malnutrition
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Prenatal protein malnutrition
  • attention deficits
  • brain
  • developmental reprograming
  • executive function
  • hippocampus
  • inhibitory neurons
  • maternal insults
  • neuroplasticity
  • prefrontal cortex
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 33314995
  • Start Page

  • 1392
  • End Page

  • 1399
  • Volume

  • 25
  • Issue

  • 7