Brains of Depressed Mother’s Babies Are Wired Differently
Researchers at the National University of Singapore have discovered that the brains of babies born to depressed mothers are wired differently and this may increase their risk of mood or anxiety disorders later in life.
The exact relationship between depression onset and parental influence isn’t really known and the stock answer tends to point to both genetic and environmental factors, with genetics playing a bigger role in the type of depression that is severe and recurrent. During pregnancy, especially the early stages, antidepressant medication is not usually recommended because of concerns over potential complications involving birth defects and the possible loss of the pregnancy. Even so, if the risks posed by depression are high, then antidepressants can still be prescribed. But what of the health risks to an unborn baby of a mother who is not being treated for depression?
A lot of depression research has been given over to an area of the brain known as the amygdala. This almond-shaped bunch of neurons is set deep in the brain and plays a key role in the processing of emotions such as fear and pleasure. A number of conditions and disorders ranging from anxiety to autism to depression have been linked to abnormal functioning of the amygdala.
In this most recent study, published in the Dec 4 edition of Biological Psychiatry, the research team recruited 157 pregnant women who completed a questionnaire at week 26 to assess for depression. Two weeks after birth, babies were given a brain imaging scan and comparison made to the connectivity (the wiring) of the amygdala. It was found that babies of depressed mothers had significantly less connectivity to the right portion of the amygdala.
Research coming out of the UK has found that teenagers could be one-and-a- half times more likely to become depressed if their mothers suffered from depression during pregnancy.
Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, states that early and systematic screening of pregnant women for depression would be valuable.
Bai J., Chen H., Chong, Y.S, et al. Prenatal Maternal Depression Associates with Microstructure of Right Amygdala in Neonates at Birth. Biological Psychiatry. Dec 4 2013.