Prenatal immune activation alters hippocampal place cell firing characteristics in adult animals

Amy R. Wolff, David K. Bilkey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Prenatal maternal immune activation (MIA) is a risk factor for several developmental neuropsychiatric disorders, including autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Adults with these disorders display alterations in memory function that may result from changes in the structure and function of the hippocampus. In the present study we use an animal model to investigate the effect that a transient prenatal maternal immune activation episode has on the spatially-modulated firing activity of hippocampal neurons in adult animals. MIA was induced in pregnant rat dams with a single injection of the synthetic cytokine inducer polyinosinic: polycytidylic acid (poly I:C) on gestational day 15. Control dams were given a saline equivalent. Firing activity and local field potentials (LFPs) were recorded from the CA1 region of the adult male offspring of these dams as they moved freely in an open arena. Most neurons displayed characteristic spatially-modulated 'place cell' firing activity and while there was no between-group difference in mean firing rate between groups, place cells had smaller place fields in MIA-exposed animals when compared to control-group cells. Cells recorded in MIA-group animals also displayed an altered firing-phase synchrony relationship to simultaneously recorded LFPs. When the floor of the arena was rotated, the place fields of MIA-group cells were more likely to shift in the same direction as the floor rotation, suggesting that local cues may have been more salient for these animals. In contrast, place fields in control group cells were more likely to shift firing position to novel spatial locations suggesting an altered response to contextual cues. These findings show that a single MIA intervention is sufficient to change several important characteristics of hippocampal place cell activity in adult offspring. These changes could contribute to the memory dysfunction that is associated with MIA, by altering the encoding of spatial context and by disrupting plasticity mechanisms that are dependent on spike timing synchrony.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)232-243
Number of pages12
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Marsden Fund . The authors thank Sara Illingworth for her assistance. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • Autism
  • Bipolar
  • Hippocampus
  • Maternal
  • Memory
  • Place cell
  • Poly I:C
  • Rat
  • Schizophrenia
  • Synchrony


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