The experience of ethnic, racial, and structural inequalities is increasingly recognized as detrimental to health, and early studies suggest that its experience in pregnant mothers may affect the developing fetus. We characterized discrimination and acculturation experiences in a predominantly Hispanic sample of pregnant adolescent women and assessed their association with functional connectivity in their neonate’s brain. We collected self-report measures of acculturation, discrimination, maternal distress (i.e., perceived stress, childhood trauma, and depressive symptoms), and socioeconomic status in 165 women. Then, we performed a data-driven clustering of acculturation, discrimination, perceived stress, depressive symptoms, trauma, and socioeconomic status variables during pregnancy to determine whether discrimination or acculturation clustered into distinct factors. Discrimination and acculturation styles loaded onto different factors from perceived stress, depressive symptoms, trauma, and socioeconomic status, suggesting that they were distinct from other factors in our sample. We associated these data-driven maternal phenotypes (discrimination and acculturation styles) with measures of resting-state functional MRI connectivity of the infant amygdala (n = 38). Higher maternal report of assimilation was associated with weaker connectivity between their neonate’s amygdala and bilateral fusiform gyrus. Maternal experience of discrimination was associated with weaker connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex and stronger connectivity between the amygdala and fusiform of their neonate. Cautiously, the results may suggest a similarity to self-contained studies with adults, noting that the experience of discrimination and acculturation may influence amygdala circuitry across generations. Further prospective studies are essential that consider a more diverse population of minoritized individuals and with a comprehensive assessment of ethnic, racial, and structural factors.
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We also wish to thank Kristiana Barbato, Dr. Ezra Aydin, and Dr. Angeliki Pollatou for helpful feedback on the manuscript concepts and Dr. Seonjoo Lee for providing initial consultation regarding the statistical analysis.
Data were provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) MH093677 (CM and BSP) grant. This work was also supported by NIMH K24MH127381 (MNS), R01MH126133 (MNS and DS), R01MH117983 Supplements 1 (APL) and 2 (AD); the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences TL1TR001875 (CMH); National Health and Lung and Blood Disease Institute R25HL096260, the BEST-DP: Biostatistics & Epidemiology Summer Training Diversity Program (RK and VO); Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development K23HD092589 (MNS); and the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Irving Scholar Award (MNS).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Spann, M.N., Alleyne, K., Holland, C.M. et al. The effects of experience of discrimination and acculturation during pregnancy on the developing offspring brain. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-023-01765-3