Pregnancy changes the brain in profound and lasting ways, affecting brain physiology, mood, and behavior
Neuroscience 2022, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging information on brain science and health, presented new findings on how pregnancy changes the brain in very significant ways.
In fact, maternal mental health issues are extremely common among pregnant women and new mothers.
Of the approximately 3.5 million people who give birth each year in the United States, approximately 20% will be affected by mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. These diseases can have a negative impact on parents, babies, families and society if left untreated.
Research into how pregnancy alters the brain is beginning to reveal the neural mechanisms underlying adaptive changes and perinatal mental illness.
Postpartum depression: risk biomarkers and therapeutic targets
Susceptibility or resilience to postpartum depression in a rodent model is associated with changes in neuroimmune markers and hormones that could serve as risk biomarkers or possible therapeutic targets for the disease.
Factors that regulate gene expression in learning and memory networks may mediate long-term effects of maternal experience in mouse brains.
The long-lasting antidepressant effects of allopregnanolone in postpartum depression may be due to effects on the coordination of activity in brain regions involved in mood.
“The neuroscience findings presented today touch on different aspects of the transition to motherhood at multiple levels of investigation and in various brain areas,” says session moderator Jodi Pawluski, neuroscientist and psychotherapist.
“An important insight into the neuroscience of parenting”
“This maternal brain research provides important insights into the neuroscience of parenthood and has implications for the targeting and treatment of perinatal mental illness.”
Pregnancy changes the brain – how?
According to research, nearly 70% of women experience some of these symptoms within weeks of giving birth:
Tests on rats identified vulnerability to postpartum anhedonia
Individual female rats showed variable susceptibility to postpartum anhedonia; those with postpartum anhedonia were also more anxious and less likely to care for their puppies.
Scientists found that rats susceptible to postpartum anhedonia had altered levels of certain neuroimmune factors and hormones compared to unaffected animals. This suggests that it may be possible to identify biomarkers that predict the risk of postpartum depression and that could serve as new therapeutic targets for the disease.
Ultimately, knowledge of the molecular mechanisms underlying how pregnancy, childcare, and stressful experiences interact to produce long-term changes in brain health is limited.
However, studies have shown that mice that have given birth perform better on spatial learning tasks and display profoundly different gene expression patterns in the hippocampus, a brain structure essential for learning and memory, compared to mice that have been given birth. mice that have not given birth.
Chronic stress during the postpartum period, on the other hand, completely inhibits these adaptive changes.
Brexanolone (allopregnanolone) approved for the treatment of postpartum depression
Brexanolone (allopregnanolone) was recently approved by the FDA for the treatment of postpartum depression. Indeed, the drug provides long-lasting antidepressant effects, but how it works is still poorly understood.
In mice, for example, allopregnanolone appears to regulate the coordination of neural activity across brain networks involved in mood and emotional processing.
The flow of information through these brain networks is disrupted by chronic stress, a major risk factor for depression and anxiety, but may be partially restored by treatment with allopregnanolone, providing a possible mechanism for the antidepressant effects. drug persistence.