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Maternal Depression May Affect Child’s Brain Development at Critical Stages in Life

Women with higher depressive symptoms tended to have children with thinner frontal and temporal areas

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Toronto, November 16, 2016: Depressive symptoms in women during and after pregnancy are linked to reduced thickness of the cortex — the outer layer of the brain responsible for complex thought and behaviour — in preschool-age kids, says a new study.

“Our findings underscore the importance of monitoring and supporting mental health in mothers not just in the post-partum period, but also during pregnancy,” said lead researcher Catherine Lebel of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.

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The findings, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, suggest that a mother’s mood may affect her child’s brain development at critical stages in life.

Eighteen percent of women experience depression some time during pregnancy, and both peri-natal and post-partum depression have been associated with negative outcomes in children.

But the associations between maternal depression and abnormal brain structure in kids at this age was not known.

For the study, the researchers screened 52 women for depressive symptoms during each trimester of pregnancy and a few months after the child was born.

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The women ranged in the presence of symptoms, some with no or few symptoms, and some meeting the screening criteria for depression.

When the children reached about 2.5 to 5 years of age, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure their brain structure.

Women with higher depressive symptoms tended to have children with thinner frontal and temporal areas, cortical regions implicated in tasks involving inhibition and attention control.

The researchers also found an association between depressive symptoms and abnormal white matter in the frontal area, the fiber tracts connecting the region to other areas in the brain.

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These associations were only found when symptoms occurred during the second trimester and post-partum, suggesting these periods are particularly critical times for child brain development.

Abnormalities in brain structure during critical periods in development have often been associated with negative outcomes, such as learning disabilities and behavioural disorders, the researchers said. (IANS)

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Bacteria in The Gut May Lead to Anxiety, Depression

The researchers are now working to identify specific populations of bacteria involved in these processes and the molecules that the bacteria produce

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Bacteria in The Gut May Lead to Anxiety, Depression
Bacteria in The Gut May Lead to Anxiety, Depression. Pixabay

Gut bacteria plays a key role in infusing negative feelings in the brains of obese people, causing depression and anxiety, researchers say.

The findings showed that mice on a high-fat diet showed significantly more signs of anxiety, depression and obsessive behaviour than animals on standard diets.

In mice with high-fat diets, two areas of the brain, the hypothalamus, which helps to control whole body metabolism, and the nucleus accumbens, important in mood and behaviour, becomes insulin resistant.

“Your diet isn’t always necessarily just making your blood sugar higher or lower; it’s also changing a lot of signals coming from gut microbes and these signals make it all the way to the brain,” said C. Ronald Kahn, from the Joslin Diabetes Centre in the US.

“But all of these behaviours are reversed or improved when antibiotics that will change the gut microbiome were given with the high fat diet,” Kahn added.

Gut Bacteria.
Gut Bacteria. Pixabay

In the study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the team identified the effect of the microbiome by transferring gut bacteria from experimental mice to germ-free mice which did not have any bacteria of their own.

The animals which received bacteria from mice on a high-fat diet began to show increased levels of activity associated with anxiety and obsessive behaviour.

However, those who got microbes from mice on a high-fat diet plus antibiotics did not, even though they did not receive the antibiotics themselves.

Also Read: Depression, Anxiety May Lead to Teeth Loss

The researchers are now working to identify specific populations of bacteria involved in these processes and the molecules that the bacteria produce.

“If we could modify those bacteria, either by putting in more beneficial bacteria or reducing the number of harmful bacteria, that might be a way to see improved behaviour,” Kahn noted. (IANS)