Maternal depression during pregnancy: Novel brain and behavioral markers of risk in the fetus

Principal Investigator: Laura Stroud
NARSAD Independent Investigator Award

Of the four million births per year in the US, at least 500,000 infants are exposed to maternal major depressive disorder (MDD), with highest rates in infants of poor, underserved mothers. Offspring exposed to maternal MDD are at heightened risk for neurobehavioral deficits, altered brain structure and function, and, ultimately MDD, suggesting an adverse intergenerational cycle. Given high exposure rates and links to adverse long-term outcomes, novel approaches are needed to identify at-risk offspring and delineate the earliest pathways to MDD. This NARSAD Independent Investigator proposal offers a paradigm shift in harnessing 2 and 3-dimensional fetal ultrasound to identify pre-birth brain and behavioral markers of risk from maternal MDD. 

Results from the proposed study will elucidate the earliest markers of risk from maternal MDD, leading to refined postnatal identification and intervention efforts. Results will also inform discovery of mechanisms underlying the intergenerational transmission of MDD and critical periods of fetal vulnerability to maternal MDD. It is hoped that the proposed research will be a first step toward halting the intergenerational cycle of MDD. If successful, the proposed approach may also be useful for uncovering earliest markers of risk from other maternal mental illnesses.