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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.
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 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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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.
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).