Study: Depression In Pregnancy, Low Birth Weight Tied To Biomarker

Women with low levels of BDNF protein have higher risk of depression, low birth weight

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A recent study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows pregnant women experience a dramatic decline of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in their last trimester, which may contribute to depression during pregnancy and low birth weights.

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – As many as one in seven women suffer from depression during pregnancy, which not only impacts the mood of the mother, but also the health of the baby. Now, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have linked the issue to a certain protein found in the brain.

“We found that levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, decline pretty significantly from early to late pregnancy, and that causes a wide range of issues,” said Lisa Christian, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study. “Women who had steeper declines of BDNF had a greater risk for depression late in pregnancy and also had a higher risk for delivering babies of low birth weight.”

BDNF helps to regulate mood in all of us, but in pregnant women, it’s also needed to form and maintain the placenta and assist with the baby’s brain development.

For the study, researchers took blood serum samples during and after pregnancy from 139 women. They observed steady declines of BDNF throughout pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. Though declines in BDNF aren’t solely responsible for late-term depression or low birth weight, this study is among the first to suggest it is a factor.

“The good news is, there are some good ways to address the issue,” said Christian. “Antidepressant medications have been shown to increase BDNF levels. This may be appropriate for some pregnant women, but is not without potential risks and side effects,” she said. “Luckily, another very effective way is through exercise. With approval from your physician, staying physically active during pregnancy can help maintain BDNF levels, which has benefits for a woman’s mood, as well as for her baby’s development.”

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A recent study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows pregnant women experience a dramatic decline of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in their last trimester, which may contribute to depression during pregnancy and low birth weights.

Cryssie Cox (right) talks with Lace Vanemen (left) and her children. Like one in seven women, Cox suffered from depression during pregnancy and met Vaneman through a support group. A new study suggests women experience a dramatic drop in levels of a protein in the brain known as BDNF during the late stages of pregnancy, which may contribute to depression.

Like one in seven women, Cryssie Cox, of Commercial Point, Ohio, experienced depression during pregnancy. A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center shows a drop in a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) may contribute to depression as well as low birth weights in babies.

Lisa Christian, associate professor of psychiatry, (left) discusses the findings of her latest study with a colleague at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Christian found that during the final stages of pregnancy, women experience a dramatic drop in a protein in the brain known as BDNF, which may contribute to depression and low birth weights for babies.