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Tracing the influence of prenatal risk factors on the offspring retina: Focus on development and putative long-term consequences.

BACKGROUND: Pregnancy represents a window of vulnerability to fetal development. Disruptions in the prenatal environment during this crucial period can increase the risk of the offspring developing diseases over the course of their lifetime. The central nervous system (CNS) has been shown to be particularly susceptible to changes during crucial developmental windows. To date, research focused on disruptions in the development of the CNS has predominantly centred on the brain, revealing a correlation between exposure to prenatal risk factors and the onset of neuropsychiatric disorders. Nevertheless, some studies indicate that the retina, which is part of the CNS, is also vulnerable to in utero alterations during pregnancy. Such changes may affect neuronal, glial and vascular components of the retina, compromising retinal structure and function and possibly impairing visual function.

METHODS: A search in the PubMed database was performed, and any literature concerning prenatal risk factors (drugs, diabetes, unbalanced diet, infection, glucocorticoids) affecting the offspring retina were included.

RESULTS: This review collects evidence on the cellular, structural and functional changes occurring in the retina triggered by maternal risk factors during pregnancy. We highlight the adverse impact on retinal development and its long-lasting effects, providing a critical analysis of the current knowledge while underlining areas for future research.

CONCLUSIONS: Appropriate recognition of the prenatal risk factors that negatively impact the developing retina may provide critical clues for the design of preventive strategies and for early therapeutic intervention that could change retinal pathology in the progeny.

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