June 01, 2006

Prenatal Exposure to Maternal STDs Raises Risk of Schizophrenia

This is additional coverage of a schizophrenia research paper we initially reported on in May that links maternal infections (sexually transmitted disease in this case) to a much higher (5 times higher) risk of the child getting schizophrenia later in life. Interestingly, another recent paper identifies the potential mechanism by which the increase risk is being transfered to the child. Of course this is just one of a number of important pregnancy factors that have been linked to increased schizophrenia risk for the child. These studies strongly support the importance of pre-pregnancy health and pre-natal physical health check-ups for the mother, to help ensure the health of the child.

In a paper appearing in the May issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, Brown and colleagues report that children born to mothers who experienced genital/ reproductive infections around the time of conception or in the first few weeks of pregnancy displayed a five times higher risk of schizophrenia as adults. The time window of susceptibility was quite narrow, as no elevated risk was associated with maternal infection at later gestational times.

One possible explanation of the results is that stimulation of the maternal immune system, rather than direct fetal infection with a particular organism, affects brain development, leading to later problems. Just how that might happen is the subject of another paper, this from the lab of Benjamin Yee at the Swiss Federal Institution of Technology Zurich (Switzerland). Writing in the May 3 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, Yee and colleagues show that elevation of maternal inflammatory cytokines at different stages of pregnancy in mice causes distinct neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the offspring. It is also possible that some individual infections may operate by unique effects to disrupt fetal brain development and increase risk for schizophrenia.

Commenting on the new research paper, Dr. Paul Petterson, professor of biology at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) noted:

"Over the past six years, Alan Brown and colleagues have published an impressive series of epidemiological findings on schizophrenia in the offspring of a large cohort of carefully studied pregnant women (reviewed by Brown, 2006). Their work has confirmed and greatly extended prior findings linking maternal infection in the second trimester with increased risk for schizophrenia in the offspring. Moreover, Brown et al. found an association between anti-influenza antibodies in maternal serum and increased risk for schizophrenia, as well as a similar association with elevated levels of a cytokine in maternal serum."


"In the new paper (Babulas et al., 2006), this group reports a fivefold increase in risk for schizophrenia spectrum disorders in the offspring of women who experienced a genital/reproductive infection during the periconception period. The infections considered were endometritis, cervicitis, pelvic inflammatory [...continued] disease, vaginitis, syphilis, condylomata, “venereal disease,” and gonorrhea. Strengths of the study include physician documentation of the infections and face-to-face assessments of schizophrenia."

Read the full story at SchizophreniaForum.org: (its rather technical - as Schizophrenia Forum is written for schizophrenia researchers)

Bad Timing: Prenatal Exposure to Maternal STDs Raises Risk of Schizophrenia

More information on the causes and preventation on schizophrenia

Schizophrenia research that is related to pregnancy and infections:

Google Scholar on Schizophrenia, Pregnancy and Infections


Do you think before you post crap like this? As if SZ does not have enough stigma attached to it, studies like these have to pour on heaps more. If this was proven fact and the cause of sz then fine, but to post such a repulsive unproven theory on the main page of sz.com is just plain wrong.

Oh btw, your mother is a whore, a skanky whore with VD. Don't like it, now do you?

Neither do we.

Don't add to the stigma. Use your brain.

Posted by: Malvok at June 2, 2006 07:36 PM

They are saying it *may* be a possible cause. They aren't saying VD either. They said STD. No, this doesn't mean your mother is a whore.

Past prenatal studies have found links to the flu, so perhaps it's a general infection-related problem that increases the likelyhood of developing problems associated with Schizophrenia. It could be that an STD is more likely to bring about the situation, but that doesn't mean it's the only way. It could be that an intense reaction is all that is required at a certain time.

It may add to the stigma, so what? We already have plenty of idiots on TV that are portrayed as paranoid schizophrenics that kill people. Be a nice person and show them how nice a person with Schizophrenia can be.

Posted by: imaginator at June 2, 2006 09:00 PM

hi , would it mean i would have all 5 sons sz? eldest and 4th child ill, born 11 years apart ? what about child 2 3 and 5? seems an odd study without looking into why not all children born to a mother with vd dont get sz. Also when you get pregnant you are given many blood tests and screening , vd would most certainly show up.

Posted by: sanakigran at June 3, 2006 01:03 AM

Did anyone here but imaginator actually read the article?

Posted by: Anonymous at June 3, 2006 01:23 PM

It doesn't necesarily follow that
a woman is of ill repute because she has an std.

Posted by: Tim at June 4, 2006 01:14 PM

Folks - this research is NOT saying that if a child has schizophrenia, the mother had an STD. What it IS saying is that if a mother has an STD, then the chances are 500% higher (for the child to develop schizophrenia) than if she didn't have an STD.

Its like saying that if a person plays soccer, he or she is more likely to break their leg. But just because a person breaks a leg, doesn't mean they were playing soccer.

All its saying is that the risk is higher for the child if the mother has and STD. Its good science. There are quite a number of studies that have indicated this. All it means is that people who have an STD should get good medical treatment for it prior to having a child or getting pregnant.

Posted by: szadmin at June 4, 2006 07:28 PM

"Its like saying that if a person plays soccer, he or she is more likely to break their leg. But just because a person breaks a leg, doesn't mean they were playing soccer."-szadmin

If, all things considered, soccer was so dangerous that it's players broke their legs 5x as often as the players of any other sport, then it would certainly develop a reputation for breaking legs, deserved or not.

Posted by: Malvok at June 5, 2006 01:57 AM

What it is doing is bringing up a question, as most studies do. The question is a very general one.

The question is this - if a mother became ill during pregnancy, could this affect the growth of the baby's brain? And, is it possible that infections might alter the behavior of her children or cause a mental illness?

This doesn't have to be an STD.

HOWEVER....STD's are good illnesses to study, only because there are health department records on their occurance. The researchers took health department records and were wondering how many people later got schiz after a parent had a reported STD.

That doesn't mean all people have to have gotten schiz from an STD.

It would actually be very hard to get accurate information about other illnesses. For that reason, studies often use STD's as an example.

It doesn't mean that everyone who has schiz had a mother with an STD. it only means there are records available for those illnesses. Studies have to make use of the available information, and there just isn't good records on illnesses like flu, toxoplasmosis and other illnesses. STD's are often used in studies, simply because there are good records on them. Try to get those on flu, or toxoplasmosis, you'd have to go around to every doctor in the united states, every little private office - no study could afford that!

STD's are often studied as 'infection models'. It doesn't imply parents all had std's.

What they did is this. They infected some mice with an illness very early in pregnancy, and then watched the behavior of their offspring. They found the offspring had more rigid behavior and less searching. In mice, such behavior is something like having a mental illness. How close is it to schizophrenia? Well, some of the biology of the behavior is similar, but it is a model, not a 'mouse mental illness', and not 'mouse schizophrenia'.

The theory of infection causing schizophrenia, allows for some children being ill and others in a family not being ill. It can also allow for all children in a family being ill, or only one, and perhaps even for patterns of heredity. It also might help to explain why often, many family members have altered MRI's, but don't get schizophrenia. perhaps they were exposed at a slightly different time, or after the mother had successfully fought off the infection, and the infection was too weak to harm their brain growth.

It may be the family members all have inherited a common flaw in how their dopaminergic nerves grow, or a lack of resistance to some infection, or even, behavior that often exposes them to some illness.

But again, this is a theory. It's not proven yet, and there is an incredibly huge amount of work to do before it can even come close to being proved without a doubt.

Right now, all we have is some interesting results from one study, and writers are theorizing about what the results might mean.

We are still quite a ways away from finding out if infections in the mother could cause later mental illness.

Posted by: slc2 at June 5, 2006 09:44 AM

Another thought is that even if it's proven that this lab infection affected mouse behavior, it's still a very, very long leap to proving that schizophrenia is caused by a prenatal infection. A VERY long leap. Success in this one experiment only means that the line of study is worth following. It's not anything conclusive.

It's actually very hard to prove something causes an illness. It's easy to suggest that two things might be linked, and even 'risk factors' are only links. They aren't causes. For example, winter birth time. It's a 'risk factor for schizophrenia' because in a study, it was shown that more children who grew up to have schizophrenia were born in winter. But does a winter birth CAUSE schizophrenia? That's not what a risk factor says. It only says there's an association. No one knows yet what that association is. Is it some mistake in how the data was collected, or is this finding due to something entirely different. It's like the study that reported, 'college is good for schizophrenia!' In it, some questionairs given to students showed that students in college had milder schizophrenia than among other groups of schizophrenics. There's another obvious conclusion the data could indicate - that only more mildly affected schizophrenics stay in college. The situation might have nothing to do with 'college being good for schizophrenia'.

Too, the higher rate of schizophrenia in offspring is stated as being 5 times higher. When you're dealing with small numbers like 71 people, there are very, very strong potentials for those numbers to be distorted by unintended things. Perhaps the group of patients you happened to recruit for your study had infections, but perhaps there were many other things about them that aren't obvious from the study. Perhaps only mothers with schizophrenia AND prenatal infections applied for the study, perhaps the recruitment poster for the study only reached a certain group of people. Perhaps the results of the study won't generalize (or apply to a much larger or differently selected group). Perhaps the women who participated are special in some other way. We don't know. We'd have to see dozens and dozens of studies, recruiting in different ways, taking place in different areas and countries, reaching people of different income groups, ages and circumstances. The results would have to be repeatable - over and over, despite slightly different study methods. In other words, a very long way to go.

Posted by: slc2 at June 5, 2006 11:31 AM


I recommend you read the entire Schizophreniaforum.org paper and comments on them by other schizophrenia researchers. Here is one such comment from a researcher (and I quote):

"Over the past six years, Alan Brown and colleagues have published an impressive series of epidemiological findings on schizophrenia in the offspring of a large cohort of carefully studied pregnant women (reviewed by Brown, 2006). Their work has confirmed and greatly extended prior findings linking maternal infection in the second trimester with increased risk for schizophrenia in the offspring. Moreover, Brown et al. found an association between anti-influenza antibodies in maternal serum and increased risk for schizophrenia, as well as a similar association with elevated levels of a cytokine in maternal serum."

In other words, this line of research is already well down the path that you've suggested - there is a large body of research suggesting that infection during pregnancy is likely to significantly increase your child's risk of schizophrenia. There have been many studies done in this area and this is just one more confirming study.

Posted by: Sz Administrator at June 5, 2006 11:46 AM

Your opinion is that it is a 'confirming study'. That is not my opinion. In fact, I do not find any terminology in any of my books called 'confirming'.

And yes, actually, I have read that, and many other articles, about infections, maternal antibodies, I study epidemiology very intensively as well, and am starting a course in epidemiology and medical statistics, and have worked at two medical research jobs now, one conducting a clinical trial and the other medical informatica, and read extensively on epidemiology. Epidemiological studies both confirm and call into question, the above research. Research on infection causing mental illness has been going on for over 100 years, and I daresay I have read most of the research on links between maternal infections and mental illness. In other words, it is still not clear that women need to be terrified if they get flu during pregnancy, that their child will run a high risk of getting schizophrenia. That is premature. A risk factor is not a cause. it is a statistic. It MAY be a cause. That is not yet proven.

Is this hopeful information? Is it intriguing? Is more research needed as soon as possible?

I would say yes to all those questions. But I would not agree that this is a 'confirming study'. There is no such thing. It would take dozens, if not thousands more studies to firm this up.

At the same time, the line of study is crucial, and I am very sure that it must continue.

Posted by: slc2 at June 6, 2006 09:26 AM


actually its not my opinion - I was quoting Dr. Paul Patterson - the Biology professor from Caltech who commented on this research announcement at the schizophreniaforum.org web site. You're not disagreeing with me - you're disagreeing with a biologist focused on schizophrenia infections research at one of the top universities in the USA, who said:

"Their work has confirmed and greatly extended prior findings linking maternal infection in the second trimester with increased risk for schizophrenia in the offspring"

I'm curious as to why its your belief that you know more about the biology of schizophrenia infections than the top biologists in the country who study the disease?

Most of the research I've read confirms the view expressed by Dr. Patterson. As we cover in our "causes and prevention" of schizophrenia area of our web site - its becoming concensus that people have certain genes that are sensitive to certain environmental conditions - and when they are exposed to those conditions it increases the probability that they will get schizophrenia.

The precise gene/ environment conditions that work together to create schizophrenia will likely take many decades to fully understand - but it doesn't mean people should ignore the results that are building strong cases for a number of factors.

People can use the information today to "likely" lower their children's risk of schizophrenia in the future. Its not abolutely 100% "proven" because in biology its rare that a theory is entirely proven (do you think that its "proven" that any drug that anyone takes will 100% help them for any disease or disorder?? I doubt it - but rational people judge that its "likely" to help and take medications) - this isn't Math or physics where something can ever be totally proven.

The researchers I've spoken to who are working on the area of schizophrenia prevention concur with this position. I'll get more interviews with these researchers so that people understand these issues more clearly, from the researcher's own words.

Posted by: Sz Administrator at June 6, 2006 04:56 PM

he says the findings link the second trimester, he doesn't say he has found the cause of schizophrenia, and this is it, and this is all it is. this work is crucial, it is ground breaking, and it is absolutely necessary. but i cease to understand why you feel you must force me to view this research exactly as you do.

Posted by: slc2 at June 7, 2006 09:49 AM

Because I think it would be good if there was less schizophrenia in the world - and this research, if people act on it and are more careful (i.e. by getting better prenatal care, avoiding pregnancy if suffering from STDs, etc.) then it seems highly likely that there will be fewer cases of schizophrenia.

My concern with you always saying "Its only a theory" - is that people won't take proper precautions against well-documented risks that probably would reduce the chances of their children getting schizophrenia.

Is this the only causal factor in schizophrenia - of course not - but like many diseases - the fewer risk factors that families expose their children to, the greater the chance that they will grow up healthy.

Why wouldn't you want people to take these precautions? Why do you seem to encourage people to take no actions in the face of a large number of studies (well over 100 studies) that link increased schizophrenia risk to infections during pre-pregnancy and pregnancy - and instead tell people to wait until "its proven"? To do nothing is to encourage more people to ignore known risk factors and increase the liklihood of schizophrenia.

I know you seem to think that there will be a silver bullet - a single cause of schizophrenia - but thats not what any of the leading schizophrenia researchers think - and while I think you have much good advice that you give at the site, I think that in this specific area you're really mistaken - and if anyone follows your lead in this area it could really harm their children - which is the opposite of what I think you want.


Posted by: szadmin at June 7, 2006 11:05 AM

Concerning the impication of STD's in the neurodevelopment of schizophrenia, please note there is an error on the title of article listed below and its contents ( taken from the Schizophreniaforum web site). Toxoplasma is most likely transmitted during exposure to cat feces (changing of cat litter), Rubella is the German measles, and influenza is flu A, B or C. None are STD's. HSV-1 is not usually a STD, while HSV-2 is an STD. Both have been impicated. Dr Torrey has done extensive work on the Toxoplasma issue.

At this point, any maternal infection (or combination of microbes) should be considered a potential causitive agent

Bad Timing: Prenatal Exposure to Maternal STDs Raises Risk of Schizophrenia

22 May 2006. Chasing down environmental risk factors for schizophrenia has led researchers back to the womb, to the very beginning of brain development in fetal life. Epidemiological data point to a mother’s exposure to a range of pathogens as a risk factor for several neuropsychiatric illnesses in her grown children. In particular, research has linked maternal exposure to influenza virus, toxoplasmosis, and rubella to an increased incidence of schizophrenia in adults.

Posted by: gf at June 16, 2006 07:33 AM

having a different opinion doesn't put me on the side that wants more schizophrenia in the world, and that isn't a justification for browbeating me into agreeing that this study has found the cause or even a significant point of control for schizophrenia. personally, i don't see how a study that insists its results are 'important' and 'significant' guarantees that the results are such. again, linkages, risk factors, associations, these are not causal mechanisms.

in fact, children may have higher rates of schiz. in this group for entirely different reasons. with some studies showing 80-90% of homeless as having a major mental illness, and the rate of rape, violent crime and illness of homeless being what it is, that a population of mentally ill people through no desire of their own have a higher rate of illnesses, and the higher rate of schz. in their offspring may be an entirely independent issue caused by something else such as heredity.

as i said, to me, it is an interesting line of study. it has not shown a causal mechanism. it has shown statistical associations in studies of small groups (note, 71 subjects resulting), that is all. there is no proof that maternal infection causes schizophrenia, just theories that it might.

when and if it does turn out that infections have anythign to do with causing schiz, all the 'prevent schizophrenia!' products now being sold may have some value. but i seriously doubt it. will wait and see.


Posted by: slc at June 22, 2006 03:16 PM

hi am in college right now taking a nursing course and we are doing a report on schizophrenia and i was wondering if i could bother anyone for some info i am really interested in learning more about this as i will be working with people that have this condition

Posted by: Randi Wallace at March 13, 2007 10:41 AM

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