Neuroanatomical Correlates Underlying the Association Between Maternal Interleukin 6 Concentration During Pregnancy and Offspring Fluid Reasoning Performance in Early Childhood

Jerod M. Rasmussen, Alice M. Graham, Lauren E. Gyllenhammer, Sonja Entringer, Daniel S. Chow, Thomas G. O'Connor, Damien A. Fair, Pathik D. Wadhwa, Claudia Buss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Maternal inflammation during pregnancy can alter offspring brain development and influence risk for disorders commonly accompanied by deficits in cognitive functioning. We therefore examined associations between maternal interleukin 6 (IL-6) concentrations during pregnancy and offspring cognitive ability and concurrent magnetic resonance imaging-based measures of brain anatomy in early childhood. We further examined newborn brain anatomy in secondary analyses to consider whether effects are evident soon after birth and to increase capacity to differentiate effects of pre- versus postnatal exposures.

METHODS: IL-6 concentrations were quantified in early (12.6 ± 2.8 weeks), mid (20.4 ± 1.5 weeks), and late (30.3 ± 1.3 weeks) pregnancy. Offspring nonverbal fluid intelligence (Gf) was assessed at 5.2 ± 0.6 years using a spatial reasoning task (Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Matrix) (n = 49). T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging scans were acquired at birth (n = 89, postmenstrual age = 42.9 ± 2.0 weeks) and in early childhood (n = 42, scan age = 5.1 ± 1.0 years). Regional cortical volumes were examined for a joint association between maternal IL-6 and offspring Gf performance.

RESULTS: Average maternal IL-6 concentration during pregnancy was inversely associated with offspring Gf performance after adjusting for socioeconomic status and the quality of the caregiving and learning environment (R 2 = 13%; p = .02). Early-childhood pars triangularis volume was jointly associated with maternal IL-6 and childhood Gf (p corrected < .001). An association also was observed between maternal IL-6 and newborn pars triangularis volume (R 2 = 6%; p = .02).

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that the origins of variation in child cognitive ability can, in part, trace back to maternal conditions during the intrauterine period of life and support the role of inflammation as an important component of this putative biological pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-33
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging
Issue number1
Early online dateMar 23 2021
StatePublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this work was provided by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant Nos. R01 HD060628 [to PDW and SE]; and K99 HD100593 [to JMR] ); National Institute of Mental Health (Grant No. R01 MH091351 [to PDW and CB] ); and National Institutes of Health (Grant No. UG3OD023349 [to TGO, PDW, and CB] ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Fluid intelligence
  • Fluid reasoning
  • Inferior frontal gyrus
  • Inflammation
  • Interleukin 6
  • Longitudinal MRI
  • Newborn
  • Pars triangularis


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