Foetal brain development is influenced by maternal exercise during pregnancy
Sunday, Nov 10, 2013, 2:45 PM - 3:00 PM
++F.01.q. Cognitive development
, D. CURNIER, D. ELLEMBERG;
Kinesiology, Univ. of Montreal, Montreal, QC, Canada
PURPOSE: Accumulating evidence suggests that an active lifestyle is beneficial for cognition in children, adults and the elderly. Recently, studies using the rat animal model found that maternal exercise during pregnancy has a beneficial influence on the development of the foetal brain (i.e., increased hippocampal neurogenesis) that ultimately leads to functional changes for the newborn rat pup (i.e., better memory and learning) (Akhavan et al., 2008). The aim of the present study was to verify if in humans an active lifestyle during pregnancy has an impact on the newborn's brain.
METHODS: Women joined the study in the first trimester of their pregnancy and were randomly assigned to an active or a sedentary group. The active group was asked to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes, 3 times per week, at a minimal intensity of 55% of their maximal aerobic capacity. The sedentary group did not exercise. The effect of exercise during pregnancy on the newborn's brain was investigated 8 - 12 days post partum by means of the mismatch negativity (MMN), a neurophysiological brain potential that is associated with auditory sensory memory and measured with EEG.
RESULTS: Active group performed an average of 117 minutes of moderate intensity structured exercise per week while sedentary group performed 12 minutes per week. The average difference wave for the MMN was calculated for all newborns. The grand averages show a positive wave peaking at 253ms for the babies born from the active mothers and at 209ms for those born from the sedentary mothers. Statistical analyses reveal that the area amplitude of the MMN is significantly lower at the electrode sites Pz (Z = 5.00, p = 0.01) and Fz (Z = 8.00, p = 0.04) for the babies born from the active mothers.
A time-frequency analysis was performed on the MMN difference waves with wavelets. For most recording sites, a reduction in relative power for the delta band (0-4Hz) can be seen for the active group as opposed to the sedentary group. Further, a Fast Fourier Transform analysis indicates that compared to the sedentary group, the sleep recordings of the active group manifest a reduction in relative spectral power for the alpha band (7-15Hz) over the left temporal region.
CONCLUSION: Exercise during pregnancy had an impact on the newborn’s brain. As suggested in previous studies (He et al., 2007), the positive MMN wave is associated with neuronal immaturity and it disappears by 4 months of age. Therefore, the positive wave with a smaller area amplitude in the active group suggests heightened maturity. To better understand the functional significance of our findings, children from this study will undergo developmental testing at age 1.
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