Researchers discover marker for postpartum depression risk

Low oxytocin levels in the blood may be able to indicate the risk for postpartum depression.
By Stephen Feller  |  July 27, 2015 at 6:21 PM
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., July 27 (UPI) -- Researchers have identified a biomarker in pregnant women's blood which may indicate their risk for postpartum depression after giving birth.

Low levels of the hormone oxytocin are associated with postpartum depression, however the genetic regulation of the oxytocin receptor was found to predict women who may be predisposed for the condition.

Researchers said they were not surprised about the biomarker because oxytocin also is known to be important to healthy births, maternal bonding, and mood and emotional regulation.

"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 Jessica Connelly, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, in a press release. "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 researchers reviewed blood samples and medical records for 545 women, 269 of which had postpartum depression and 276 who did not. They found that oxytocin regulator levels in the women's blood could indicate the risk for developing postpartum.

"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 Aleeca Bell, a researcher at the University of Illinois Chicago.

The study is published in Frontiers in Genetics.

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