Prenatal maternal infection and maternal iron deficiency during pregnancy are 2 early environmental insults associated with increased risk for schizophrenia in offspring. Substantial evidence suggests that abnormalities in inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) interneuron function, especially in the parvalbumin subtype of GABA interneuron, both developmentally and in adulthood, may contribute mechanistically to cognitive deficits and psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia. This study used a rat model to test whether prenatal immune activation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS; at gestation days, GD, 15 and 16) or maternal iron deficiency (from GD2 to postnatal day P7) or the combination of both insults alters major subtypes of GABAergic interneurons (parvalbumin, somatostatin, cholecystokinin) in brain regions relevant to schizophrenia (medial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [PFC], hippocampal CA1 and dentate gyrus, ventral subiculum) in offspring at P14 or P28. Prenatal LPS treatment significantly increased the density of parvalbumin-immunoreactive neurons at P14 in the medial PFC, dorsolateral PFC, and ventral subiculum of offspring born from iron-sufficient but not iron-deficient dams. Prenatal LPS also increased cholecystokinin neuron density in the medial PFC at P28, under both iron-sufficient and iron-deficient conditions. We observed a large increase in parvalbumin neuron density from P14 to P28 in the medial PFC and subiculum across all birth groups, that was not observed in other brain regions, and significant decreases in somatostatin neuron density from P14 to P28 in all brain regions examined across all birth groups, indicating differential developmental trajectories for parvalbumin and somatostatin neurons in various brain regions during this early postnatal period. Thus, it appears that the medial PFC and ventral subiculum, brain regions involved in circuitry modulating ventral tegmental dopamine and nucleus accumbens activities, may be regions vulnerable to effects of prenatal LPS on specific subpopulations of interneurons. It is known that the timing of maturation and expansion of parvalbumin neurons in early development provides threshold levels of inhibition that trigger critical periods for cortical plasticity, leading to long-term circuit consolidation. Thus, our finding of increased parvalbumin neuron density at early developmental times might suggest a mechanism by which an acute prenatal insult like LPS exposure could produce long-term changes in prefrontal cortical or subicular function.

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