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Pregnancy Timeline by SemestersFetal liver is producing blood cellsHead may position into pelvisBrain convolutions beginFull TermWhite fat begins to be madeWhite fat begins to be madeHead may position into pelvisImmune system beginningImmune system beginningPeriod of rapid brain growthBrain convolutions beginLungs begin to produce surfactantSensory brain waves begin to activateSensory brain waves begin to activateInner Ear Bones HardenBone marrow starts making blood cellsBone marrow starts making blood cellsBrown fat surrounds lymphatic systemFetal sexual organs visibleFinger and toe prints appearFinger and toe prints appearHeartbeat can be detectedHeartbeat can be detectedBasic Brain Structure in PlaceThe Appearance of SomitesFirst Detectable Brain WavesA Four Chambered HeartBeginning Cerebral HemispheresFemale Reproductive SystemEnd of Embryonic PeriodEnd of Embryonic PeriodFirst Thin Layer of Skin AppearsThird TrimesterSecond TrimesterFirst TrimesterFertilizationDevelopmental Timeline
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Home | Pregnancy Timeline | News Alerts |News Archive Dec 6, 2013

 

Mental health screening should be included among the medical evaluations that women undergo when they discover that they are pregnant. Indeed, the authors conclude that their study supports "interventions targeting maternal depression early in pregnancy."







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Depression in pregnant mom may alter brain in baby

Depression is a serious mental illness that has many negative consequences for sufferers. But depression among pregnant women may also have an impact on the developing brain patterns of babies.


Children of depressed parents are at an increased risk of developing depression themselves, a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.

These children also display alterations in the amygdala, a brain structure important for the regulation of emotion and stress.

However, prior work in this area has assessed children years after birth, which means that the timing of these alterations has remained unidentified.


The new study appears in Biological Psychiatry.

Researchers led by Dr. Anqi Qiu at the National University of Singapore now have the answers, with their new work published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

They set out to perform a direct analysis of prenatal maternal depression and variation in the fetal development of the amygdala.

To do so, they recruited 157 pregnant women who completed a depression questionnaire during their 26th week of pregnancy. Later, within two weeks of birth, newborns underwent magnetic resonance imaging scans to ascertain the structure of their amygdala and diffusion tensor imaging scans to determine the integrity of the amygdala's pattern of neural connections.

The volume of the amygdala did not differ between the infants regardless of their mothers' depression status. However, the researchers found significantly reduced structural connectivity (i.e., lower fractional anisotropy and lower axial diffusivity) in the right amygdala of infants of mothers with high levels of depression symptoms. In other words, the amygdala's microstructure (e.g., its "wiring") was abnormal in the infants born to depressed mothers.


This important finding suggests that a propensity for abnormal amygdala function — a feature of mood and anxiety disorders — may be transmitted from mother to child during fetal life.

This finding suggests one new path that a history of maternal depression might contribute to a life-long increase in the vulnerability to mental illness.


This study provides added evidence supporting the notion that mental health screening should be included among the medical evaluations that women undergo when they discover that they are pregnant. Indeed, the authors conclude that their study supports that "interventions targeting maternal depression should begin early in pregnancy."

"Attention to maternal health during pregnancy is an extremely high priority for society for many reasons," added Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "The notion that maternal depression might influence the brain development of their babies is very concerning. The good news is that this risk might be reduced by systematic screening of pregnant women for depression and initiating effective treatment."

Abstract
Background
Antenatal maternal cortisol levels associate with alterations in the amygdala, a structure associated with emotion regulation, in the offspring. However, because offspring brain and behavior are commonly assessed years after birth, the timing of such maternal influences is unclear. This study aimed to examine the association between antenatal maternal depressive symptomatology and neonatal amygdala volume and microstructure and thus establish evidence for the transgenerational transmission of vulnerability for affective disorders during prenatal development.

Methods
Our study recruited Asian mothers at 10 to 13 weeks pregnancy and assessed maternal depression at 26 weeks gestation using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Structural magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging were performed with 157 nonsedated, 6- to 14-day-old newborns and then analyzed to extract the volume, fractional anisotropy, and axial diffusivity values of the amygdala.

Results
Adjusting for household income, maternal age, and smoking exposure, postconceptual age at magnetic resonance imaging, and birth weight, we found significantly lower fractional anisotropy (p = .009) and axial diffusivity (p = .028), but not volume (p = .993), in the right amygdala in the infants of mothers with high compared with those with low-normal Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale scores.

Conclusions
The results reveal a significant relation between antenatal maternal depression and the neonatal microstructure of the right amygdala, a brain region closely associated with stress reactivity and vulnerability for mood anxiety disorders. These findings suggest the prenatal transmission of vulnerability for depression from mother to child and that interventions targeting maternal depression should begin early in pregnancy.

The article is "Prenatal Maternal Depression Associates with Microstructure of Right Amygdala in Neonates at Birth" by Anne Rifkin-Graboi, Jordan Bai, Helen Chen, Waseem Bak'r Hameed, Lit Wee Sim, Mya Thway Tint, Birit Leutscher-Broekman, Yap-Seng Chong, Peter D. Gluckman, Marielle V. Fortier, Michael J. Meaney, and Anqi Qiu (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.06.019). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 74, Issue 11 (December 1, 2013), published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Rhiannon Bugno at +1 214 648 0880 or Biol.Psych@utsouthwestern.edu. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Dr. Anqi Qiu at bieqa@nus.edu.sg.

The authors' affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.

John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.

About Biological Psychiatry
Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.

The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.

Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 4th out of 135 Psychiatry titles and 13th out of 251 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2012 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 9.247.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders. Elsevier's online solutions include ScienceDirect, Scopus, Reaxys, MD Consult and Mosby's Nursing Suite, which enhance the productivity of science and health professionals, and the SciVal suite and MEDai's Pinpoint Review, which help research and health care institutions deliver better outcomes more cost-effectively.

A global business headquartered in Amsterdam, Elsevier employs 7,000 people worldwide. The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world-leading publisher and information provider, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).