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:

Tackling depression by changing the way you think
A thought is a thought. It does not reflect reality.
How depression can muddle thinking
Depression is associated with sadness, fatigue and a lack of motivation.
Neuroimaging categorizes 4 depression subtypes
Patients with depression can be categorized into four unique subtypes defined by distinct patterns of abnormal connectivity in the brain, according to new research from Weill Cornell Medicine.
Studies suggest inflammatory cytokines are associated with depression and psychosis, and that anti-cytokine treatment can reduce depression symptoms
Studies presented at this year's International Early Psychosis Association meeting in Milan, Italy, (Oct.
Is depression in parents, grandparents linked to grandchildren's depression?
Having both parents and grandparents with major depressive disorder was associated with higher risk of MDD for grandchildren, which could help identify those who may benefit from early intervention, according to a study published online by JAMA Psychiatry.
More Depression News and Depression Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...