February 8, 2005
Infant Infection May Impair Adult Memory
Rat study found poor recall in animals infected after birth
HealthDay News -- Infections in early childhood may affect memory function in later life, suggests a study in rats.
The study from researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that rats with a history of infections as newborns displayed memory problems as adults whenever their immune systems were under stress, as happens during illness.
Rats infected with the E. coli bacteria as pups displayed memory lapses in special behavioral experiments, researchers say. These memory lapses only appeared when the adult rats were sick. The memories of adult rats with no history of post-natal infection remained strong, however, regardless of whether they were sick or not.
Researchers say the study, published in the February issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, adds to a growing body of evidence that even a single infection can permanently alter physiological systems.
Gaining a better idea of how infection in newborns can impair memory in immune-challenged adults may help researchers grasp how exposure to environmental stressors or germs before or just after birth may make people more prone to neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, they said.
The study authors pointed out that prenatal viral infection has been linked to autism, cerebral palsy and schizophrenia. Bacterial infection is also a risk factor for Parkinson's disease.
It's estimated that complications involving infections of the uterus and its contents occur in up to 20 percent of pregnancies.
The American Society for Microbiology has more about viruses and bacteria.