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Risk of Postpartum Depressive Symptoms With Elevated Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone in Human Pregnancy



Postpartum depression (PPD) is common and has serious implications for the mother and her newborn infant. A possible link between placental corticotropin-releasing hormone (pCRH) and PPD incidence has been hypothesized, but empirical evidence is lacking.


To determine whether accelerated increases in pCRH throughout pregnancy are associated with PPD symptoms.


Pregnant women were recruited into this longitudinal cohort study. Blood samples were obtained at 15, 19, 25, 31, and 37 weeks' gestational age (GA) for assessment of pCRH, cortisol, and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Depressive symptoms were assessed with a standardized questionnaire at the last 4 pregnancy visits and post partum.


Subjects were recruited from 2 southern California medical centers, and visits were conducted in research laboratories.


One hundred adult women with a singleton pregnancy. Main Outcome Measure Symptoms of PPD were assessed at a mean (SD) of 8.7 (2.94) weeks after delivery with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.


Sixteen women developed PPD symptoms. At 25 weeks' GA, pCRH was a strong predictor of PPD symptoms (R(2) = 0.21; beta = 0.46 [P < .001]), an effect that remained significant after controlling for prenatal depressive symptoms. No significant associations were found for cortisol and ACTH. Receiver operating characteristic curve analyses revealed that pCRH at 25 weeks' GA is a possible diagnostic tool (area under the curve, 0.78 [P = .001]). Sensitivity (0.75) and specificity (0.74) at the ideal cutoff point (pCRH, 56.86 pg/mL) were moderate. Growth curve analyses indicated that the trajectories of pCRH in women with PPD symptoms are significantly accelerated from 23 to 26 weeks' GA.


At a critical period in midpregnancy, pCRH is a sensitive and specific early diagnostic test for PPD symptoms. If replicated, these results have implications for the identification and treatment of pregnant women at risk for PPD.

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