Maternal Interleukin-6 concentration during pregnancy is associated with variation in frontolimbic white matter and cognitive development in early life

Jerod M. Rasmussen, Alice M. Graham, Sonja Entringer, John H. Gilmore, Martin Styner, Damien A. Fair, Pathik D. Wadhwa, Claudia Buss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Maternal inflammation during pregnancy can alter the trajectory of fetal brain development and increase risk for offspring psychiatric disorders. However, the majority of relevant research to date has been conducted in animal models. Here, in humans, we focus on the structural connectivity of frontolimbic circuitry as it is both critical for socioemotional and cognitive development, and commonly altered in a range of psychiatric disorders associated with intrauterine inflammation. Specifically, we test the hypothesis that elevated maternal concentration of the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) during pregnancy will be associated with variation in microstructural properties of this circuitry in the neonatal period and across the first year of life. Pregnant mothers were recruited in early pregnancy and maternal blood samples were obtained for assessment of maternal IL-6 concentrations in early (12.6 ± 2.8 weeks [S.D.]), mid (20.4 ± 1.5 weeks [S.D.]) and late (30.3 ± 1.3 weeks [S.D.]) gestation. Offspring brain MRI scans were acquired shortly after birth (N = 86, scan age = 3.7 ± 1.7 weeks [S.D.]) and again at 12-mo age (N = 32, scan age = 54.0 ± 3.1 weeks [S.D.]). Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) was used to characterize fractional anisotropy (FA) along the left and right uncinate fasciculus (UF), representing the main frontolimbic fiber tract. In N = 30 of the infants with serial MRI data at birth and 12-mo age, cognitive and socioemotional developmental status was characterized using the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. All analyses tested for potentially confounding influences of household income, prepregnancy Body-Mass-Index, obstetric risk, smoking during pregnancy, and infant sex, and outcomes at 12-mo age were additionally adjusted for the quality of the postnatal caregiving environment. Maternal IL-6 concentration (averaged across pregnancy) was prospectively and inversely associated with FA (suggestive of reduced integrity under high inflammatory conditions) in the newborn offspring (bi-lateral, p < 0.01) in the central portion of the UF proximal to the amygdala. Furthermore, maternal IL-6 concentration was positively associated with rate of FA increase across the first year of life (bi-lateral, p < 0.05), resulting in a null association between maternal IL-6 and UF FA at 12-mo age. Maternal IL-6 was also inversely associated with offspring cognition at 12-mo age, and this association was mediated by FA growth across the first year of postnatal life. Findings from the current study support the premise that susceptibility for cognitive impairment and potentially psychiatric disorders may be affected in utero, and that maternal inflammation may constitute an intrauterine condition of particular importance in this context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)825-835
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jan 15 2019


  • Fractional anisotropy
  • Inflammation
  • Interleukin-6
  • Longitudinal DTI
  • Newborn
  • Uncinate fasciculus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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