Maternal stress, nutrition and physical activity: Impact on immune function, CNS development and psychopathology

Andrea Horvath Marques, Anne Lise Bjørke-Monsen, Antônio L. Teixeira, Marni N. Silverman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Abstract Evidence suggests that maternal and fetal immune dysfunction may impact fetal brain development and could play a role in neurodevelopmental disorders, although the definitive pathophysiological mechanisms are still not completely understood. Stress, malnutrition and physical inactivity are three maternal behavioral lifestyle factors that can influence immune and central nervous system (CNS) functions in both the mother and fetus, and may therefore, increase risk for neurodevelopmental/psychiatric disorders. First, we will briefly review some aspects of maternal-fetal immune system interactions and development of immune tolerance. Second, we will discuss the bidirectional communication between the immune system and CNS and the pathways by which immune dysfunction could contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders. Third, we will discuss the effects of prenatal stress and malnutrition (over and undernutrition) on perinatal programming of the CNS and immune system, and how this might influence neurodevelopment. Finally, we will discuss the beneficial impact of physical fitness during pregnancy on the maternal-fetal unit and infant and how regular physical activity and exercise can be an effective buffer against stress- and inflammatory-related disorders. Although regular physical activity has been shown to promote neuroplasticity and an anti-inflammatory state in the adult, there is a paucity of studies evaluating its impact on CNS and immune function during pregnancy. Implementing stress reduction, proper nutrition and ample physical activity during pregnancy and the childbearing period may be an efficient strategy to counteract the impact of maternal stress and malnutrition/obesity on the developing fetus. Such behavioral interventions could have an impact on early development of the CNS and immune system and contribute to the prevention of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. Further research is needed to elucidate this relationship and the underlying mechanisms of protection. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI: Neuroimmunology in Health And Disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number43885
Pages (from-to)28-46
Number of pages19
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Aug 18 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anxiety
  • Exercise
  • Immunology
  • Inflammation
  • Mental health
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Nutrition
  • Physical activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Programming
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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