Antenatal maternal anxiety modulates the BOLD response in 20-year-old men during endogenous cognitive control

Maarten Mennes, Peter Stiers, Lieven Lagae, Bea R.H. Van den Bergh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Web of Science)


Evidence is building for an association between the level of anxiety experienced by a mother during pregnancy and offspring cognition and structural and functional brain correlates. The current study uses fMRI to examine the association between prenatal exposure to maternal anxiety and brain activity associated with endogenous versus exogenous cognitive control in 20-year-old males. Endogenous cognitive control refers to the ability to generate control over decisions, strategies, conflicting information and so on, from within oneself without external signals, while exogenous control is triggered by external signals. In line with previous results of this long-term follow-up study we found that 20-year-olds of mothers reporting high levels of anxiety during weeks 12-22 of pregnancy exhibited a different pattern of decision making in a Gambling paradigm requiring endogenous cognitive control, compared to adults of mothers reporting low to average levels of anxiety. Moreover, the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response in a number of prefrontal cortical areas was modulated by the level of antenatal maternal anxiety. In particular, a number of right lateralized clusters including inferior frontal junction, that were modulated in the adults of mothers reporting low to average levels of anxiety during pregnancy by a task manipulation of cognitive control, were not modulated by this manipulation in the adults of mothers reporting high levels of anxiety during pregnancy. These differences in brain functional correlates provide a neurobiological underpinning for the hypothesis of an association between exposure to maternal anxiety in the prenatal life period and a deficit in endogenous cognitive control in early adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)830–846
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number3
Early online date7 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Adult offspring
  • Brain network
  • Developmental origins of behavior
  • Developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD)
  • Early adversity
  • Gambling paradigm
  • Maternal psychological distress
  • Neurocognitive tasks
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective study
  • TASK
  • Task-related fMRI
  • health and Disseas (DOBHaD)

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