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New insights into the role of perinatal HPA-axis dysregulation in postpartum depression.

  • Author(s): Glynn, Laura M
  • Davis, Elysia Poggi
  • Sandman, Curt A
  • et al.
Abstract

Postpartum depression affects 10-20% of women following birth and exerts persisting adverse consequences on both mother and child. An incomplete understanding of its etiology constitutes a barrier to early identification and treatment. It is likely that prenatal hormone trajectories represent both markers of risk and also causal factors in the development of postpartum depression. During pregnancy the maternal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis undergoes dramatic alterations, due in large part, to the introduction of the placenta, a transient endocrine organ of fetal origin. We suggest that prenatal placental and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation is predictive of risk for postpartum depression. In this model the positive feedback loop involving the systems regulating the products of the HPA axis results in higher prenatal levels of cortisol and placental corticotropin-releasing hormone. Greater elevations in placental corticotropin-releasing hormone are related to a disturbance in the sensitivity of the anterior pituitary to cortisol and also perhaps to decreased central corticotropin-releasing hormone secretion. Secondary or tertiary adrenal insufficiencies of a more extreme nature, which emerge during the prenatal period, may be predictive of an extended or more pronounced postpartum hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal refractory period, which in turn represents a risk factor for development of postpartum depression. In addition to reviewing the relevant existing literature, new data are presented in support of this model which link elevated placental corticotropin-releasing hormone with low levels of ACTH at 3-months postpartum. Future research will further elucidate the role of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation in postpartum depression and also whether prenatal placental and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal profiles might prove useful in the early identification of mothers at risk for postpartum mood dysregulation.

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