Nav: Home

Study uncovers possible link between immune system and postpartum depression

November 06, 2018

SAN DIEGO - The immune system might play an important role in the development of postpartum depression after a stressful pregnancy, new research suggests.

Areas of the brain responsible for mood regulation showed signs of inflammation in the study, which used an animal model of postpartum depression to examine the possible connection between the immune system, the brain and the disorder. The study by researchers at The Ohio State University was presented Nov. 6 in San Diego at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting.

"Postpartum depression is understudied and, as a result, remains poorly understood," said lead author Benedetta Leuner, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State.

"Gaining a better understanding of the factors that contribute to this serious and prevalent disorder will be key to finding ways to better help women who are struggling."

Postpartum depression is common after childbirth - about 15 percent of all new mothers will experience the disorder, which has a variety of symptoms including prolonged depression, difficulty bonding with the baby, overwhelming fatigue and hopelessness.

"At least a half million women in the U.S. each year suffer from postpartum depression, and that is probably a low estimate. It's surprising how little we know about how it arises," Leuner said.

Previous research has focused primarily on potential hormonal explanations for postpartum depression, though some earlier work has been done on the immune system. In those studies, scientists have looked at signs of inflammation in the blood and found mixed results.

This study looked at the medial prefrontal cortex, a mood-related brain region previously implicated in postpartum depression.

For the experiment, rats were stressed during pregnancy to mimic a well-known risk factor for postpartum depression in human mothers. Similar to behaviors seen in women with postpartum depression, the stressed animals exhibited decreased attentiveness to their pups and depression- and anxiety-like behavior during various tasks.

And, unlike unstressed comparison animals, the stressed rats had higher levels of inflammatory markers in their brain tissue, Leuner said. Furthermore, the researchers found evidence that the stress might lead to changes in how certain immune cells in the brain - called microglia - function.

Study co-author Kathryn Lenz, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State, said she has become increasingly interested in the role of the immune system and its subsequent effects on the brain in mood disorders, including postpartum depression.

"It was especially interesting that we found no evidence of increased inflammation in the blood, but we did find it in this area of the brain that is important for mood regulation. We're really excited because this suggests that inflammation in the brain may be a potential contributor to postpartum depression," Lenz said.

"Eventually, this might provide a better target for treatment, whether through medication or other techniques such as meditation, diet and stress reduction," she said.

"Postpartum depression is debilitating and can negatively impact the whole family. We are hopeful that this and future research will improve the lives of women and those around them," Leuner said
-end-
CONTACT: Benedetta Leuner, 614-292-5218; Leuner.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Depression Articles:

Targeting depression: Researchers ID symptom-specific targets for treatment of depression
For the first time, physician-scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have identified two clusters of depressive symptoms that responded to two distinct neuroanatomical treatment targets in patients who underwent transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS) for treatment of depression.
A biological mechanism for depression
Researchers report that in depressed individuals there are increased amounts of an unmodified structural protein, called tubulin, in lipid rafts compared with non-depressed individuals.
Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.
Why stress doesn't always cause depression
Rats susceptible to anhedonia, a core symptom of depression, possess more serotonin neurons after being exposed to chronic stress, but the effect can be reversed through amygdala activation, according to new research in JNeurosci.
Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.
Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.
CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
Post-natal depression in dads linked to depression in their teenage daughters
Fathers as well as mothers can experience post-natal depression -- and it is linked to emotional problems for their teenage daughters, new research has found.
Being overweight likely to cause depression, even without health complications
A largescale genomic analysis has found the strongest evidence yet that being overweight causes depression, even in the absence of other health problems.
Don't let depression keep you from exercising
Exercise may be just as crucial to a depression patient's good health as finding an effective antidepressant.
More Depression News and Depression Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Processing The Pandemic
Between the pandemic and America's reckoning with racism and police brutality, many of us are anxious, angry, and depressed. This hour, TED Fellow and writer Laurel Braitman helps us process it all.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#568 Poker Face Psychology
Anyone who's seen pop culture depictions of poker might think statistics and math is the only way to get ahead. But no, there's psychology too. Author Maria Konnikova took her Ph.D. in psychology to the poker table, and turned out to be good. So good, she went pro in poker, and learned all about her own biases on the way. We're talking about her new book "The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Invisible Allies
As scientists have been scrambling to find new and better ways to treat covid-19, they've come across some unexpected allies. Invisible and primordial, these protectors have been with us all along. And they just might help us to better weather this viral storm. To kick things off, we travel through time from a homeless shelter to a military hospital, pondering the pandemic-fighting power of the sun. And then, we dive deep into the periodic table to look at how a simple element might actually be a microbe's biggest foe. This episode was reported by Simon Adler and Molly Webster, and produced by Annie McEwen and Pat Walters. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.