Postpartum depression is a significant condition that affects nearly 20 percent of new mothers putting their infants at increased risk for poor behavioral, cognitive, and social development.
The newly discovered blood marker is based on the relationship between the hormone oxytocin and emotional regulation.
“Our data need to be replicated, but it is our hope that the oxytocin receptor marker we have identified will be useful to clinicians in identifying women at risk for postpartum depression,” said first author Aleeca Bell, Ph.D., R.N., of the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Oxytocin plays a positive role in healthy birth, maternal bonding, relationships, lower stress levels, as well as mood and emotional regulation. The hormone is also associated with postpartum depression when a mother has lower levels of the hormone.
In the study, a University of Virginia researcher and a team from several institutions in the United States and England hypothesized that the oxytocin receptor may play a role in the development of postpartum depression.
Investigators then identified a relationship between genetic and epigenetic markers that influence the gene responsible for the over- or under-production of oxytocin. This is turn increases or decreases the chance of a woman developing postpartum depression.
The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Genetics.
“We can greatly improve the outcome of this disorder with the identification of markers, biological or otherwise, that can identify women who may be at risk for its development,” said Dr. Jessica Connelly, an assistant professor of psychology at University of Virginia who is the senior author of the study.
“We know that women who have experienced depression before pregnancy are at higher risk of developing depression in the postpartum period. However, women who have never experienced depression also develop postpartum depression. These markers we identified may help to identify them, in advance.”
“The role of the oxytocin system in maternal behavior is well known in rodents. Our work emphasizes its importance in the human maternal condition and places the epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin receptor at the forefront,” said study co-author Dr. C. Sue Carter, director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.