Postpartum depression spans generations

October 8, 2013

A recently published study suggests that exposure to social stress not only impairs a mother's ability to care for her children but can also negatively impact her daughter's ability to provide maternal care to future offspring.

Researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University conducted a transgenerational study with female rats, examining the behavioral and physiological changes in exposed to chronic early in life as a model for postpartum depression and anxiety.

A different male rat was placed in the cage of the first-generation mothers and their newly born pups for an hour a day for 15 days. Consistent with previous research, the lactating mother rats responded to the stress of the intruder with depressed maternal care, impaired lactation, and increased anxiety. The pups of these mothers were also exposed to the conflict between their mothers and the male intruders.

After reaching maturation, second-generation females were mated and compared to a control group where neither the mother nor the pups had been exposed to a male intruder. The second generation mothers that experienced the early life stress also displayed depressed maternal care, impaired lactation, and increased anxiety. There were also changes to hormone levels: an increase in the stress hormone corticosterone, and decreases in oxytocin, prolactin (important to both and lactation) and estradiol.

"The endocrine and behavioral data are consistent with what has been reported in studies of depressed human mothers. The potential with this animal model is that it can be used to study new preventive measures and treatments for and anxiety, and the adverse effects of these disorders on offspring," said Benjamin C. Nephew, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at TCSVM and principal investigator of the study.

The study was published in the September issue of Hormones and Behavior.

"The chronic social stress model used in this study provides insight into how social stress affects both human and animal behavior in the areas of , and , and provides a wealth of observations," said Lindsay M. Carini, the study's lead author.

Funding for the study came from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

This work builds off earlier Tufts research in the area of reproductive biology, which includes initial findings on the effects of chronic social stress on maternal behavior which was published in Stress by Nephew and Professor of Biomedical Sciences Robert Bridges, Nephew's postdoctoral mentor at TCSVM.

Explore further: Maternal posttraumatic stress disorder associated with increased risk for child maltreatment

More information: Carini, Lindsay M., Nephew, Benjamin C., E?ects of early life social stress on endocrinology, maternal behavior, and lactation in rats, Hormones and Behavior (2013), DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.08.011

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Half of people believe fake facts

December 7, 2016

Many people are prone to 'remembering' events that never happened, according to new research by the University of Warwick.

MRI scans detect 'brain rust' in schizophrenia

December 7, 2016

A damaging chemical imbalance in the brain may contribute to schizophrenia, according to research presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Annual Meeting in Hollywood, Florida.

Helping children achieve more in school

December 7, 2016

Not all children do well in school, despite being intellectually capable. Whilst parental relationships, motivation and self-concept all have a role to play, a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology ...

Want to give a good gift? Think past the 'big reveal'

December 6, 2016

Gift givers often make critical errors in gift selection during the holiday season, according to a new research article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.