Exposure to stressful life events during pregnancy predicts psychotic experiences via behaviour problems in childhood
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© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Background: Exposure to stressful life events during pregnancy has been associated with later schizophrenia in offspring. We explore how prenatal stress and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in childhood associate to increase the risk of later psychotic experiences. Methods: Participants from the Mater University Study of Pregnancy (MUSP), an Australian based, pre-birth cohort study were examined for lifetime DSM-IV positive psychotic experiences at 21 years by a semi-structured interview (n=2227). Structural equation modelling suggested psychotic experiences were best represented with a bifactor model including a general psychosis factor and two group factors. We tested for an association between prenatal stressful life events with the psychotic experiences, and examined for potential moderation and mediation by behaviour problems and cognitive ability in childhood. Results: Prenatal stressful life events predicted psychotic experiences indirectly via behaviour problems at child age five years, and this relationship was not confounded by maternal stressful life events at child age five. We found no statistical evidence for an interaction between prenatal stressful life events and behaviour problems or cognitive ability. Conclusion: The measurable effect of prenatal stressful life events on later psychotic experiences in offspring manifested as behaviour problems by age 5. By identifying early abnormal behavioural development as an intermediary, this finding further confirms the role of prenatal stress to later psychotic disorders.
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