Researchers have discovered that postpartum depression (PPD) can be associated with some particular genes, a discovery that could help physicians be more prepared for women who turn out to be at risk and additional need postpartum care.
It is well-known that oxytocin levels are crucial in maternal status, so researchers suspected that the same receptors for this hormone might also be responsible for the connection between the genetic markers in the gene that is believed to make a woman more likely to develop PPD.
This hypothesis needed testing, so the team of scientists started off by collecting a huge amount of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC); more than 14,000 pregnant women were part of the study, all of whom were expected to give birth between April 1991 and December 1992.
The expectant mothers were asked to take part in the survey right from the start of the pregnancy, including questionnaires, medical records, and biological samples from both mothers and babies. The mothers were asked to give blood samples during their routine antenatal visits.
Phase two of the study mainly dealt with analyzing the collected data, with narrow focus on the relationship between the genetic variation visible in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) and the prevalence of PPD. Postpartum depression usually started showing from the 8th week of pregnancy.
Leading author of the study Assistant Prof Jessica Connelly, who teaches psychology at the University of Virginia Researchers, was especially interested in observing the increased symptoms of PPD during the pregnancy, because they are usually known to point to a higher risk of developing PPD. Results also revealed that depression manifestation levels sometimes differ during pregnancy and afterwards.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics, the study offers solid evidence that there is indeed a connection between the levels of OXTR and the occurrence of PPD.
Researchers also found that women who showed no depressive symptoms during pregnancy – but presented the specific levels of OXTR associated with the disorder – are three times more likely to develop PPD than the women who didn’t present these genetic components.
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