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From synapses to symptoms in maternal mental health during pregnancy and postpartum

Pregnancy is one of the most dynamic and plastic periods in a woman's life, offering a remarkable potential for physiological adaptation.

About the project

Although in most cases occurring without serious complications, a substantial proportion of women are affected by "postpartum blues" or the more pervasive postpartum depression or psychosis.The mechanisms are elusive, but may partly reflect the cost of boosted brain plasticity during pregnancy. We utilize recent technological advances to test the conjecture that increased brain plasticity during pregnancy not only promotes environemental adaptation and attachment to the infant, but also increases susceptibility to psychopathology when combined with specific genetic risk and environmental triggers.


To test the hypothesis that combination of changes in (1) brain plasiticity, (2) immune system regulation, and (3) gene expression are associated both with a healthy adaptation to the changing enviroment and increased risk for mental disorders in some mothers, we combine in-vivo imaging of the structure, function and biochemistry of the maternal brain using MRI and EEG. We monitor physical activity, sleep, and emotional states, probe immune system and inflammatory responses, and assess sub-clinical and diagnostic symptoms. We perform full-genome chipping and assess changes in gene expression throughout pregnancy and postpartum. Our approach uses advanced statistical tools careful phenotyping allows us to assess maternal brain changes and predict clinical trajectories


The results will inform models of maternal mental health, with important implications for our understanding of mechanisms that increase or decrease risk for mental disorders in general, which is needed to move mental health research from a descriptive to a predictive framework required for personalized interventions in maternal health care. 


The Research Council of Norway (KVINNEHELSE - Researcher Project) 2018 - 2023.

Published July 5, 2018 8:45 AM - Last modified Sep. 8, 2020 12:59 PM