Prenatal exposure to heightened maternal inflammation has been associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, including atypical brain maturation and psychiatric illness. In mothers experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, immune activation can be a product of the chronic stress inherent to such environmental hardship. While growing preclinical and clinical evidence has shown links between altered neonatal brain development and increased inflammatory states in utero, the potential mechanism by which socioeconomic disadvantage differentially impacts neural-immune crosstalk remains unclear. In the current study, we investigated associations between socioeconomic disadvantage, gestational inflammation, and neonatal white matter microstructure in 320 mother-infant dyads over-sampled for poverty. We analyzed maternal serum levels of four cytokines (IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, TNF-α) over the course of pregnancy in relation to offspring white matter microstructure and socioeconomic disadvantage. Higher average maternal IL-6 was associated with very low socioeconomic status (SES; INR < 200% poverty line) and lower neonatal corticospinal fractional anisotropy (FA) and lower uncinate axial diffusivity (AD). No other cytokine was associated with SES. Higher average maternal IL-10 was associated with lower FA and higher radial diffusivity (RD) in corpus callosum and corticospinal tracts, higher optic radiation RD, lower uncinate AD, and lower FA in inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus and anterior limb of internal capsule tracts. SES moderated the relationship between average maternal TNF-α levels during gestation and neonatal white matter diffusivity. When these interactions were decomposed, the patterns indicated that this association was significant and positive among very low SES neonates, whereby TNF-α was inversely and significantly associated with inferior cingulum AD. By contrast, among the more advantaged neonates (lower-to-higher SES [INR ≥ 200% poverty line]), TNF-α was positively and significantly associated with superior cingulum AD. Taken together, these findings suggest that the relationship between prenatal cytokine exposure and white matter microstructure differs as a function of SES. These patterns are consistent with a scenario where gestational inflammation’s effects on white matter development diverge depending on the availability of foundational resources in utero.

Original languageEnglish
Article number72
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


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