Background: Maternal cortisol during pregnancy has the potential to influence rapidly developing fetal brain systems that are commonly altered in neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. Research examining maternal cortisol concentrations across pregnancy and offspring neurodevelopment proximal to birth is needed to advance understanding in this area and lead to insight into the etiology of these disorders. Methods: Participants were 70 adult women recruited during early pregnancy and their infants born after 34 weeks gestation. Maternal cortisol concentrations were assessed serially over 4 days in early, mid, and late gestation. Resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging of the neonatal amygdala was examined. Mothers reported on children's internalizing behavior problems at 24 months of age. Results: Maternal cortisol concentrations during pregnancy were significantly associated with neonatal amygdala connectivity in a sex-specific manner. Elevated maternal cortisol was associated with stronger amygdala connectivity to brain regions involved in sensory processing and integration, as well as the default mode network in girls, and with weaker connectivity to these brain regions in boys. Elevated maternal cortisol was associated with higher internalizing symptoms in girls only, and this association was mediated by stronger neonatal amygdala connectivity. Conclusions: Normative variation in maternal cortisol during pregnancy is associated with the coordinated functioning of the amygdala soon after birth in a sex-specific manner. The identified pathway from maternal cortisol to higher internalizing symptoms in girls via alterations in neonatal amygdala connectivity may be relevant for the etiology of sex differences in internalizing psychiatric disorders, which are more prevalent in women.
- Resting state functional connectivity MRI
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biological Psychiatry