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Investigating Postpartum Depression

The prefrontal-limbic system is a part of the brain that may be involved in maternal behavior. New mothers generally show changes in the responsiveness of the prefrontal-limbic system to infants in ways that differ from women who have not just given birth. New mothers may also show less sensitivity to stress. Additionally, women who suffer depression outside of the postpartum period show heightened responsiveness of the prefrontal-limbic system in response to stress, suggesting an overlap in circuits critical to maternal behavior and those altered by depression. It is unknown whether changes in this prefrontal limbic system are related to postpartum depression (PPD).

The mechanism for altered neural responsiveness in the postpartum period may involve oxytocin, which also occurs at higher levels in new mothers. It is hypothesized that this makes the new mother less affected, generally, by negative stressors from the outside world, but more responsive to her infant.


CURRENT PROJECTS:
The study will involve three groups of women -- new mothers who are not depressed, new mothers with PPD, and women who have never given birth. Using fMRI technology, we will compare brain activity in the three groups in response to a series of images. Some of the women will also receive an oxytocin nasal spray. The study results will provide a better understanding of brain activity in women with postpartum depression, and the role of oxytocin in the early stages of motherhood.

If you are a woman located in Bloomington, Indiana, and would like to participate in this study, you can find out more on our Research Opportunities page >>

SLIDESHOW:
Follow the researchers and one of our volunteer participants as they conduct an fMRI scan as part of this study:

Our volunteer, Danielle, had this comment about her experience:

"My biggest worry was drooling into a tube for the saliva sample. As it turned out, the drooling part was easy but the fMRI was a little scarier than I expected at first. Becky, the fMRI technician, warned me that it's scary for everyone, which helped - I was able to relax after just a few minutes. The process was not at all difficult and actually kind of fun. It was very cool to get pictures of my brain. I'd definitely participate in another one of these studies!"

INVESTIGATORS:
Heather Rupp, Ph.D.; Julia Heiman, Ph.D.; Thomas James, Ph.D., Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Kinsey Institute research fellow; Dale Sengelaub, Ph.D., Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Kinsey Institute senior research fellow; Ellen Ketterson, Ph.D, Department of Biology and Kinsey Institute senior research fellow; and Beate Ditzen, Ph.D., The University of Zurich in Switzerland.

FUNDED BY:
National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
"When the Baby Blues Linger: Investigating Postpartum Depression." Kinsey Today (Kinsey Institute newsletter). 13(2): Spring 2009.

 

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