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Mother's caffeine intake during pregnancy could damage brain development
A study has shown that a mother's caffeine consumption during pregnancy and while breastfeeding can lead to slowed brain development.
This can lead to deficits in their ability to remember information about their environment and its orientation, or spatial memory, in adulthood and an increased risk of seizures in their offspring.
Dr Carla Silva, lead author of the paper said: "This study is the first demonstration of the harmful effects of exposure to caffeine on the developing brain."
The research published in Science Translational Medicine may reinforce current advice for expectant or new mothers to avoid caffeine.
The experiments carried out by an international team of researchers (led by Dr Christophe Bernard), tested the effect of caffeine on the offspring of mice given low levels of caffeine while pregnant and lactating. The amount of caffeine was the equivalent of a human drinking three to four cups of coffee per day.
They found that caffeine delayed the organisation of certain neurons and their insertion into the hippocampus during development. The hippocampus is heavily associated with spatial memory and when the caffeine-exposed offspring became adults they performed poorly in tasks that tested their ability to remember spatial information (compared to those that were not exposed to caffeine).
Further exploration of the hippocampus of these individuals showed a general increase in synaptic and neuronal activity. This is thought to result from overcompensation by the neurons.
Hyperexcitability in immature neuronal networks is associated with an increased susceptibility to seizures. This correlation was also found in mice pups exposed to caffeine during development.
In Britain and the US, pregnant women are advised to have a guideline daily amount of between one and two cups of coffee a day. This is based on possible links between caffeine consumption and the risk of miscarriage or low birth weight.
Dr Silver warned that "it is necessary to emphasize caution in extrapolating the results obtained in animal models to the human population without taking into account the differences in brain development and maturation between the species."
Silva C. G., Métin C., Fazeli W., Machado N. J., Darmopil S., Launay P. S., Ghestem A., Nesa M. P., Bassot E., Szabó E., Baqi Y., Müller C. E. Tomé A.R., Ivanov A., Isbrandt D., Zilberter Y., Cunha R.A., Esclapez M., Bernard C. (2013) Adenosine Receptor Antagonists Including Caffeine Alter Fetal Brain Development in Mice Science Translational Medicine 5;197 197ra104 doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3006258