IRP researchers link depression during pregnancy to placental gene modifications
Findings suggest need for long-term studies of children born to mothers who experienced depression in pregnancy
Episodes of maternal stress or depression during pregnancy are associated with chemical modifications to placental genes, according to a study by researchers from the National Institutes of Health. The modifications involve DNA methylation — binding of compounds known as methyl groups to DNA — which can alter a gene’s activity. Some of the methylation changes associated with maternal depression occurred near genes involved in brain development, suggesting that maternal depression in pregnancy could have long-term implications for the mental development of the child.
The study was conducted by Fasil Tekola-Ayele, Ph.D., of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and colleagues. It appears in Epigenomics.
The researchers undertook a genetic analysis, called an epigenome-wide association study, on samples of placentas delivered from 301 pregnant women who participated in a previous study. Study participants responded to questionnaires on their levels of stress and depression throughout their pregnancies. The researchers found that a history of stress was associated with methylation changes in two placental DNA sites and a history of depression was associated with changes in 16 placental DNA sites. Of the changes associated with depression, two were near genes linked to brain development.
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