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A single allergic reaction during pregnancy prompts sexual-development changes in the brains of offspring that last a lifetime, new research suggests.
Female rats born to mothers exposed to an allergen during pregnancy acted more characteristically "male—mounting other female rodents, for instance—and had brains and nervous systems that looked more like those seen in typical male animals.
Male - Offspring - Tendency - Characteristics - Behaviors
The male offspring also showed a tendency toward more female characteristics and behaviors, though the changes were not as significant.
"The study shows for the first time that an allergic reaction in a mother could alter the sexual development of its offspring," said Kathryn Lenz, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. The research appears online in the journal Scientific Reports.
Response - Female - Brain - Male - Brain
"This allergic response is enough to make the female brain look like a male's brain, and that's something that endures throughout its entire life."
Previous research has shown that insults to the immune system, including stress, infection and malnutrition, can change brain development. This new research highlights the important role allergies could play, Lenz said.
Reaction - Study - Asthma - Immune - Response
She compared the allergic reaction in the study to an asthma attack—something that prompts a more-robust immune response than low-grade seasonal allergies but less severe than an allergic attack that would require a person to use an EpiPen or go to the emergency department.
Sexual development occurs on a spectrum and, in and of themselves, these shifts in sexual behavior after allergy exposure are not particularly troubling, Lenz said. They do help researchers understand the interplay between allergens and brain development, however, and highlight that early life immune activation could be a source of normal variations in female behavior, which haven't been as well-studied.
Types - Brain - Changes - Response - Allergen
And these types of brain changes as a response to an allergen could mean changes in other areas of concern, such as cognitive development.
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