A woman’s risk for developing postpartum depression could be related to a specific biomarker, researchers have discovered in a recent study.
The study, published in July in Frontiers in Genetics, found that a biomarker in the blood may determine whether a woman has a propensity toward PPD. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Virginia worked with an international team of experts and focused on the biomarker oxytocin, according to UIC. Oxytocin is associated with positive mood, healthy mother-baby interaction and lower stress.
“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. We know that women who have experienced depression before pregnancy are at higher risk of developing depression in the postpartum period,” said senior study author Jessica Connelly, PhD, of the University of Virginia. “However, women who have never experienced depression also develop postpartum depression. These markers we identified may help to identify them, in advance.”
For mothers with lower levels of oxytocin, the risk of postpartum depression increases, according to the study. Researchers discovered a link between markers that have an impact on the gene that regulates oxytocin production.
“Depression is especially detrimental in the first year after birth when the mother’s affect and sensitivity to her infant shapes the level of mother-infant emotional engagement, and subsequently impacts the child’s developmental trajectory,” study authors concluded. “Thus, identification of genetic and epigenetic susceptibility to depression in pregnancy may be one key element in a multidisciplinary approach to reduce the development of PPD and hence the adverse sequelae of depression.”
UIC researchers also recently studied whether ultrasound exams could play a role in determining a woman’s risk for preterm birth. The research, published in the journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology was conducted through UIC College of Nursing, according to a UIC news release.
Researchers looked at nearly 240 ultrasounds performed on 67 African-American women to examine cervical length and signal attenuation during the ultrasound exams. Women in the study were 17-to-21 weeks gestation and 22-to-26 weeks gestation.
Ultrasound attenuation is the gradual fade of energy as sound waves circulate through the tissue, the press release said. Researchers believe the changes ultrasound detects in water absorption and collagen makeup as the cervix remodels could provide a noninvasive way of measuring changes in the cervix that occur prior to delivery.
During the study, ultrasounds at 17-to-21 weeks gestation already showed significant differences in attenuation compared to those of the women who later delivered prematurely and those who carried to term. “As the cervix changes from a firm to a supple, soft structure, estimates of attenuation from an ultrasound can provide clinicians with early tissue-based information, rather than waiting for symptoms of preterm birth,” lead researcher Barbara McFarlin, PhD, CNM, RDMS, FACNM, associate professor and head of women, child and family health science, said in the news release. “In the future, this can be a feature added to clinical ultrasound systems.”
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