NOV 22, 2019 11:53 AM PST

Rogue Inflammation Activates Depression During Pregnancy

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Unresolved inflammation in a pregnant woman’s body can lead to serious depression during and after pregnancy. A new study investigates the physiological mechanisms responsible, in hopes that understanding the inner workings of “inflammatory perinatal depression” can help scientists develop effective treatments to alleviate the symptoms.

Inflammation is not an innately negative process in the human body. Inflammation is healthy when it is controlled effectively and resolved appropriately. During pregnancy, inflammation plays a healthy role by creating a barrier between the mother’s immune system and the fetus, ensuring the fetus is not recognized and attacked as a “foreign invader.”

When inflammation is prolonged or excessively intense, inflammation is associated with disease states. In pregnancy, rogue inflammation can contribute to depression for some women. Experts estimate that 20 percent of women experience postpartum depression, and 14 percent experience “suicidal ideation” while pregnant.

"Biologically speaking, pregnancy is a major inflammatory event that can upend many of the body's day-to-day molecular processes,” explained senior author Lena Brundin, MD. “If we can better understand these irregularities, it could lead to new ideas about how best to treat perinatal depression."

With a group of participants including both pregnancy-related depression and healthy controls, Brundin and her team analyzed 165 blood samples for inflammatory factors linking immune activity with pregnancy-related depression onset and severity. They observed elevated levels of two inflammatory cytokines, interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8. On the other hand, they saw reduced levels of IL-2, another cytokine associated with T cell proliferation and anti-cancer properties regulated by cytotoxic immune cells.

Researchers also observed low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter known for its role in depression, anxiety, panic, and obsessive compulsions. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressant drugs often prescribed to treat these conditions.

An amino acid called tryptophan is necessary for serotonin production, and the kynurenine pathway is responsible for breaking down tryptophan. This pathway is also associated with inflammation. Dysfunction in the kynurenine pathway can lead to dysfunction in the immune system, specifically associated with inflammatory conditions with “neurological aspects.”

As scientists learn more about the physiological mechanisms associated with inflammatory perinatal depression, there is an increasing amount of opportunity to develop therapeutic approaches for resolving inflammation and treating this type of depression.

Sources: Van Andel Research Institute, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
DEC 12, 2019
Health & Medicine
DEC 12, 2019
Drug-resistant Candida Auris is Spreading
A drug-resistant fungal yeast, Candida auris, is spreading throughout hospitals worldwide. Deemed “an urgent threat” by the Center for Disease...
DEC 12, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 12, 2019
Novel Treatments for Auto-immune Disorders
A recent research study examined a library of almost 300,000 small molecules to search for a molecule that may be a potential target for the human GMP-AMP ...
DEC 12, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 12, 2019
Spaceflight Activates Dormant Herpes Viruses in Astronauts
Modern science is teaching us that long-term exposure to microgravity, such as living on the International Space Station from ten days to several months at...
DEC 12, 2019
Immunology
DEC 12, 2019
How to Kill Superbugs
https://www.technologynetworks.com/immunology/news/enhancing-the-infection-fighting-potential-of-natural-products-321553...
DEC 12, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
DEC 12, 2019
The Three Drugs that Reverse Biological Aging
In the last 100 years, life expectancy in the US has risen from 55 years until 79 (Roser: 2019). And with the continuous development of medicine and scie...
DEC 12, 2019
Cardiology
DEC 12, 2019
Better Sleep, Brought To You By Exercise
Regular difficulty falling or staying asleep, called chronic insomnia, is the most common sleep disorder among adults. In the search for better, more restf...
Loading Comments...