Background: Little is known about changes in brain function that may occur during pregnancy. Studies in rodents and sheep suggest that several brain neurotransmitter and neurohormonal systems known to modulate anxiety may be altered during pregnancy.
Methods: Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and plasma samples were obtained from 21 women (during weeks 38-39 of pregnancy) who were undergoing elective cesarean section and from 22 healthy nonpregnant women.
Results: The CSF levels of g-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycolwere reduced in pregnant women. There were no changes in CSF glutamate, 5-hydroxyindoleactic acid, and homovanillic acid. There was a large increase in CSF prolactin in pregnant women and also a trend toward an elevation in CSF oxytocin. Levels of prolactin, but not oxytocin, in CSF and plasma were correlated in pregnant women.
Conclusions: These results suggest that pregnancy alters regulation of brain GABA, norepinephrine, and prolactin, which may play a role in changes in vulnerability to anxiety and depression during pregnancy and postpartum. Prolactin circulating in the bloodstream seems to be the major source of CSF prolactin during pregnancy.