Cognitive impairment following prenatal immune challenge in mice correlates with prefrontal cortical AKT1 deficiency

Byron K.Y. Bitanihirwe, Liz Weber, Joram Feldon, Urs Meyer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accumulating evidence indicates that genetically determined deficiency in the expression of the cytoplasmic serine-threonine protein kinase AKT1 may contribute to abnormal prefrontal cortical structure and function relevant to the cognitive disturbances in schizophrenia. However, it remains essentially unknown whether prefrontal AKT1 expression may also be influenced by environmental factors implicated in the aetiology of this mental illness. One of the relevant environmental risk factors of schizophrenia and related disorders is prenatal exposure to infection and/or immune activation. This study therefore explored whether prenatal immune challenge may lead to prefrontal AKT1 deficiency and associated changes in cognitive functions attributed to the prefrontal cortex. For these purposes, we used a well-established experimental mouse model of prenatal exposure to a viral-like acute phase response induced by the synthetic analogue of double-stranded RNA, polyriboinosinic- polyribocytidilic acid (PolyI:C). We found that adult offspring born to PolyI:C-treated mothers showed delay-dependent impairments in spatial working memory and recognition memory together with a marked reduction of AKT1-positive cells in the prefrontal cortex. These effects emerged in the absence of concomitant changes in prefrontal catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) density. Correlative analyses further demonstrated a significant positive correlation between the number of AKT1-positive cells in distinct prefrontal cortical subregions and cognitive performance under high storage load in the temporal domain. Our findings thus highlight that schizophrenia-related alterations in AKT1 signalling and associated cognitive dysfunctions may not only be precipitated by genetically determined factors, but may also be produced by (immune-associated) environmental insults implicated in the aetiology of this disabling brain disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)981-996
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • AKT1
  • infection
  • prefrontal cortex
  • schizophrenia
  • working memory


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