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Stress during pregnancy

June 07, 2016

The environment the unborn child is exposed to inside the womb can have a major effect on her or his development and future health. Maternal stress during pregnancy can be transmitted biologically to the unborn child. A team of researchers, led by Prof. Dr. Sonja Entringer from the Institute of Medical Psychology at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, is starting a new study about the potential effects of stress during pregnancy on newborn cell biology, with a focus on cellular aging. A European Research Council grant of €1.48 million will provide the support necessary to develop and expand this research group over the next five years.

Stress experienced by a mother during pregnancy can impact her unborn child's development and can have a lasting impact on physiological mechanisms. This, in turn, can have major and long-lasting implications for future health and developing age-related diseases. Aging-related disorders occur, by definition, with advancing age, and result from accumulation over the life course of the detrimental effects of adverse exposures. Prof. Entriger and her research team are pursuing a different perspective: "Changes in the processes associated with cellular aging, as well as the mechanisms that control them, may have their origins in the womb," explains Prof. Entringer. "Conditions within the womb, which are affected by a plethora of different factors -- including stress -- could thus have a substantial impact on the unborn child's development," says the specialist in psychobiology.

For a number of years, Prof. Entringer's work has been focusing on the links between stress-related processes and a person's risk of developing different diseases. In this context, telomere biology and cellular aging have been a mechanism of particular interest. A new study, which will follow 350 mother and child pairs from early pregnancy through birth and over the child's first year of life, will focus on psychological and physiological factors, as well as data on the mother's day-to-day behavior during pregnancy, which will be recorded using a smartphone app. Prof. Entringer summarizes as follows: "We need a better understanding of the molecular biology and epigenetic pathways that connect maternal stress exposure with an increased risk of disease in the next generation. A better understanding of these mechanisms could open up new perspectives, which, in turn, could increase the accuracy of clinical diagnosis and the development of preventative and interventional measures. Such measures could then be used early on in the child's prenatal development, well before the appearance of symptoms of disease."
ERC Starting Grant

The European Research Council provides support for young research scientists as part of 'Horizon 2020', the EU's 8th 'Framework Porgramme for Research'. Formal completion of the grant agreement means that the research group at Charité's Institute of Medical Psychology will have access to a total of €1.48 million in funding (Grant Agreement n°678073).


Prof. Dr. Sonja Entringer
Institute of Medical Psychology
Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Tel: 49 (30) 450 529 216


Institute of Medical Psychology

Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin

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