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:

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.
Having an abortion does not lead to depression
Having an abortion does not increase a woman's risk for depression, according to a new University of Maryland School of Public Health-led study of nearly 400,000 women.
Mother's depression might do the same to her child's IQ
Roughly one in 10 women in the United States will experience depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Teenage depression linked to father's depression
Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new Lancet Psychiatry study led by UCL researchers.
Anxiety and depression linked to migraines
In a study of 588 patients who attended an outpatient headache clinic, more frequent migraines were experienced by participants with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
More Depression News and Depression Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.