Postpartum about brain, not just hormones

September 17, 2010

Women with postpartum depression who viewed pictures of scared or angry faces had less activity as shown by functional magnetic resonance brain imaging than did healthy mothers in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls emotional responses and recognizes emotional cues in others. The mothers with postpartum depression also had less communication between this area and the amygdala, the hub of emotional conditioning.

Previous research on postpartum depression has primarily focused on hormonal factors. These new functional MRI findings by Eydie Moses-Kolko, M.D., and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh indicate that it is the brain biology of peripartum depression that seems to interfere with responding to emotional cues. This deficit may underlie decreased bonding to the infant, the biggest problem with the disorder.

The depressed mothers’ clinical state correlated with amygdala responses to the scared or angry faces. Within this group, lower activity in the left amygdala was associated with greater depression severity, and lower activity in the right amygdala was correlated with greater hostility toward the infant.

Dr. Moses-Kolko stated, “Finding abnormalities in these two , and in the connection between them, suggests that mothers with postpartum depression have problems in the underlying not only their own emotions but their attunement to the emotions of others. This could interfere with the bonding between the mothers and their infants and have important repercussions for the offspring later in life. Ultimately, clarifying brain mechanisms of mother-infant attachment has the potential to guide the development of more effective treatments for postpartum depression.”

More information: The study of 14 depressed mothers and 16 healthy mothers will appear on September 15 at AJP in Advance, the online advance edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Hibernating ground squirrels provide clues to new stroke treatments

November 17, 2017
In the fight against brain damage caused by stroke, researchers have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: hibernating ground squirrels.

Age and gut bacteria contribute to multiple sclerosis disease progression

November 17, 2017
Researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School published a study suggesting that gut bacteria at young age can contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) disease onset and progression.

Molecular guardian defends cells, organs against excess cholesterol

November 16, 2017
A team of researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health has illuminated a critical player in cholesterol metabolism that acts as a molecular guardian in cells to help maintain cholesterol levels within a safe, ...

Prototype ear plug sensor could improve monitoring of vital signs

November 16, 2017
Scientists have developed a sensor that fits in the ear, with the aim of monitoring the heart, brain and lungs functions for health and fitness.

Ancient enzyme could boost power of liquid biopsies to detect and profile cancers

November 16, 2017
Scientists are developing a set of medical tests called liquid biopsies that can rapidly detect the presence of cancers, infectious diseases and other conditions from only a small blood sample. Researchers at The University ...

FDA to crack down on risky stem cell offerings

November 16, 2017
U.S. health authorities announced plans Thursday to crack down on doctors pushing stem cell procedures that pose the gravest risks to patients amid an effort to police a burgeoning medical field that previously has received ...

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.