High maternal levels of the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy increase anxious and depressive-like behaviors in female offspring at the age of 2, reports a new study in Biological Psychiatry. The effect of elevated maternal cortisol on the negative offspring behavior appeared to result from patterns of stronger communication between brain regions important for sensory and emotion processing. The findings emphasize the importance of prenatal conditions for susceptibility of later mental health problems in offspring.
Interestingly, male offspring of mothers with high cortisol during pregnancy did not demonstrate the stronger brain connectivity, or an association between maternal cortisol and mood symptoms.
“Many mood and anxiety disorders are approximately twice as common in females as in males. This paper highlights one unexpected sex-specific risk factor for mood and anxiety disorders in females,” said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “High maternal levels of cortisol during pregnancy appear to contribute to risk in females, but not males.”
Vertebrate species, including humans, exposed to stress prenatally tend to have higher stress hormones after birth, according to a new Dartmouth-led study published in Scientific Reports. While previous research has reported examples of maternal stress experience predicting offspring stress hormones in different species, this study is the first to empirically demonstrate the impact of prenatal stress on offspring stress hormone levels using data from all known studies across vertebrates.
Through a meta-analysis of 114 results from a total of 39 observational and experimental studies across 14 vertebrate species, including birds, snakes, sheep and humans, the study examines the impact of prenatal exposure to maternal stress on offspring. The researchers analyzed the role of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA)-axis, the stress physiological system that is shared across all vertebrates, which ultimately, results in the production of stress hormones known as “glucocorticoids.” The HPA-axis is the hormonal system responsible for mobilizing an animal’s stress response. Offspring exposed prenatally to maternal stress were found to have more stress hormone levels (glucocorticoids) after birth. This could reflect a biological adaptation with an evolutionary history, as more stress hormones could increase an animal’s chances for survival in a stressful environment.
The use of antidepressants has been on the rise for many years. Between 2 and 8% of pregnant women are on antidepressants. Now researchers from the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus BSS show that there is an increased risk involved in using antidepressants during pregnancy.
The researchers, headed by Xiaoqin Liu, have applied register-based research to the study of 905,383 children born between 1998 and 2012 with the aim of exploring the possible adverse effects of the mother’s use of antidepressants during her pregnancy.
They found that out of the 905,383 children in total, 32,400 developed a psychiatric disorder later in life. Some of these children were born to mothers who were on antidepressants during their pregnancy, while other children had not been exposed to medication.
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact on offspring behavior. The new study links an unhealthy diet during pregnancy to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in children.
“Given the high level of dietary fat consumption and maternal obesity in developed nations, these findings have important implications for the mental health of future generations,” the researchers report.
Self-harm was the leading cause of pregnancy-associated deaths in Colorado from 2004 to 2014, ahead of car crashes, medical conditions and homicide, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
The study, “Maternal Deaths from Suicide and Overdose in Colorado, 2004-2012,” found that of 211 maternal deaths, 30 percent were from self-harm, defined as suicide and nonintentional overdose deaths occurring during pregnancy and the first year after giving birth. In Colorado, the mortality rate from self-harm during the period was 9.6 per 100,000 live births. About 90 percent occurred in the postpartum period.
It is not known how the demographics and characteristics of maternal deaths in Colorado compare to other states or if such self-harm deaths are becoming more common. According to the study, in 2012 suicide was overall the most common cause of death in Colorado among those age 10 to 44.
New research from North Carolina State University and the University of British Columbia finds that a woman’s lifetime history of drug use can help predict whether the woman will suffer from problems with stress and anxiety after childbirth. The finding could help health-care providers screen pregnant women for mental health problems and provide relevant treatment.
“There’s been a lot of attention recently on the need to incorporate mental health screening into prenatal care, and it has largely focused on identifying women who are at risk of postpartum depression,” says Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of a journal article on the work.
Women may be at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder following a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, suggests a new study.
The team behind the research, from Imperial College London, say the findings suggest women should be routinely screened for the condition, and receive specific psychological support following pregnancy loss.
In the study, published in the journal BMJ Open, the team surveyed 113 women who had recently experienced a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
The majority of the women in the study had suffered a miscarriage in the first three months of pregnancy, while around 20 per cent had suffered an ectopic pregnancy, where the baby starts to grow outside of the womb.
Children of mothers who took vitamin D during pregnancy with resultant high levels of the vitamin in the umbilical blood have fewer symptoms of ADHD at the age of 2½ years.
These were the findings in a new study from the Odense Child Cohort just published in The Australia & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
“And for every 10 nmol/L increase in the vitamin D concentration in umbilical blood, the risk of a being among the 10% highest score on the ADHD symptom scale fell by 11%,” explains one of the study’s initiators, Professor Niels Bilenberg.
1,233 children from Odense Municipality were monitored in the study. Vitamin D was measured in umbilical blood, and mothers completed the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) when their child was 2½ years old. The CBCL questionnaire can be used to identify early symptoms of ADHD, even though an ADHD diagnosis cannot be made at that age.
A study published in Biological Psychiatry reveals a new link between low levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine during pregnancy and risk of schizophrenia in the offspring.
Low levels of free thyroxine in pregnant women, referred to as hypothyroxinemia, are associated with abnormalities in cognitive development similar to those in schizophrenia, a neurodevelopmental disorder. Hypothyroxinemia is also associated with preterm birth, a risk factor for schizophrenia.
To determine if hypothyroxinemia is associated with schizophrenia, the study, led by senior author Dr. Alan Brown, Professor of Psychiatry Epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, examined thyroxine levels in archived serum samples from 1010 mothers of children with schizophrenia and 1010 matched control mothers. The sera were collected during the first and early second trimesters of pregnancy as part of the Finnish Maternity Cohort. Comprehensive Finnish registries of the population and psychiatric diagnoses provided information on case status (schizophrenia or control) among offspring of mothers corresponding to the prenatal serum samples.
A study to be published in the May 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry(JAACAP) reports that use of certain antidepressants during pregnancy can result in offspring depression by early adolescence.
Using national register data from Finland, researchers found that children exposed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during gestation had more chance of being diagnosed with depression after age 12, reaching a cumulative incidence of 8.2% by age 15. For children exposed to maternal psychiatric illness but no antidepressants, the incidence was 1.9%. Rates of anxiety, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnoses did not differ significantly between the two groups. Comparing SSRI-exposed children to children of mothers with neither antidepressant use nor psychiatric diagnosis, researchers found the rates were significantly elevated for each outcome.
Animal studies already demonstrated that exposure to SSRIs during early brain development can result in depression-like behavior in adolescence; this is the first study that follows children beyond childhood to monitor the development of depressive disorders, which typically emerge after puberty has started. The increasing rate of SSRI prescriptions to pregnant women since their introduction 30 years ago makes the study of affected children particularly urgent. Today 6% of pregnant women in the US and 4% in Finland are on SSRIs at some stage of pregnancy.