Blood marker spots women at risk for postpartum depression

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Washington | Published: July 29, 2015 4:32:24 AM

Researchers have found a marker in the blood that can identify women who might be at risk for postpartum depression.

Researchers have found a marker in the blood that can identify women who might be at risk for postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is a debilitating disorder that affects nearly 20 per cent of new mothers, putting their infants at increased risk for poor behavioural, cognitive and social development.

Researchers know that the hormone oxytocin, which plays a positive role in healthy birth, maternal bonding, relationships, lower stress levels, mood and emotional regulation, also is associated with postpartum depression when a mother has lower levels of the hormone.

“We can greatly improve the outcome of this disorder with the identification of markers, biological or otherwise, that can identify women who may be at risk for its development,” said senior author Jessica Connelly, assistant professor of psychology at University of Virginia.

“We know that women who have experienced depression before pregnancy are at higher risk of developing depression in the postpartum period,” Connelly said.

“However, women who have never experienced depression also develop postpartum depression. These markers we identified may help to identify them, in advance,” she said.

Given the important role of oxytocin in maternal behaviour, the team hypothesised that the oxytocin receptor may also play a role and identified a relationship between genetic and epigenetic markers in this gene that increase the chance of a woman developing postpartum depression.

“The role of the oxytocin system in maternal behaviour is well known in rodents. Our work emphasises its importance in the human maternal condition and places the epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin receptor at the forefront,” said study co-author C Sue Carter, director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

The study sample was from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in UK.

The authors emphasised the importance of replicating the finding in other population-based samples.

“Our data need to be replicated, but it is our hope that the oxytocin receptor marker we have identified will be useful to clinicians in identifying women at risk for postpartum depression,” said first author Aleeca Bell, of the University of Illinois, Chicago.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics.

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