Immune and metabolic challenges induce changes in pain sensation and related pathways in the hypothalamus

Sandra L Rodriguez-Zas, Romana A Nowak, Adrienne M Antonson, Laurie Rund, Sreelaya Bhamidi, Andrea N Gomez, Bruce R Southey, Rodney W Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The hypothalamic molecular processes participate in the regulation of the neuro-immune-endocrine system, including hormone, metabolite, chemokine circulation, and corresponding physiological and behavioral responses. RNA-sequencing profiles were analyzed to understand the effect of juvenile immune and metabolic distress 100 days after virally elicited maternal immune activation during gestation in pigs. Over 1,300 genes exhibited significant additive or interacting effects of gestational immune activation, juvenile distress, and sex. One-third of these genes presented multiple effects, emphasizing the complex interplay of these factors. Key functional categories enriched among affected genes included sensory perception of pain, steroidogenesis, prolactin, neuropeptide, and inflammatory signaling. These categories underscore the intricate relationship between gestational immune activation during gestation, distress, and the response of hypothalamic pathways to insults. These effects were sex-dependent for many genes, such as Prdm12, Oprd1, Isg20, Prl, Oxt, and Vip. The prevalence of differentially expressed genes annotated to proinflammatory and cell cycle processes suggests potential implications for synaptic plasticity and neuronal survival. The gene profiles affected by immune activation, distress, and sex pointed to the action of transcription factors SHOX2, STAT1, and REST. These findings underscore the importance of considering sex and postnatal challenges when studying causes of neurodevelopmental disorders and highlight the complexity of the “two-hit” hypothesis in understanding their etiology. Our study furthers the understanding of the intricate molecular responses in the hypothalamus to gestational immune activation and subsequent distress, shedding light on the sex-specific effects and the potential long-lasting consequences on pain perception, neuroendocrine regulation, and inflammatory processes. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The interaction of infection during gestation and insults later in life influences the molecular mechanisms in the hypothalamus that participate in pain sensation. The response of the hypothalamic transcriptome varies between sexes and can also affect synapses and immune signals. The findings from this study assist in the identification of agonists or antagonists that can guide pretranslational studies to ameliorate the effects of gestational insults interacting with postnatal challenges on physiological or behavioral disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-359
Number of pages17
JournalPhysiological genomics
Issue number4
Early online dateJan 8 2024
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • hormones
  • immune response
  • RNA sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Genetics


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