Antenatal prediction of postpartum depression with blood DNA methylation biomarkers

Mol Psychiatry. 2014 May;19(5):560-7. doi: 10.1038/mp.2013.62. Epub 2013 May 21.


Postpartum depression (PPD) affects ∼10-18% of women in the general population and results in serious consequences to both the mother and offspring. We hypothesized that predisposition to PPD risk is due to an altered sensitivity to estrogen-mediated epigenetic changes that act in a cell autonomous manner detectable in the blood. We investigated estrogen-mediated epigenetic reprogramming events in the hippocampus and risk to PPD using a cross-species translational design. DNA methylation profiles were generated using methylation microarrays in a prospective sample of the blood from the antenatal period of pregnant mood disorder patients who would and would not develop depression postpartum. These profiles were cross-referenced with syntenic locations exhibiting hippocampal DNA methylation changes in the mouse responsive to long-term treatment with 17β-estradiol (E2). DNA methylation associated with PPD risk correlated significantly with E2-induced DNA methylation change, suggesting an enhanced sensitivity to estrogen-based DNA methylation reprogramming exists in those at risk for PPD. Using the combined mouse and human data, we identified two biomarker loci at the HP1BP3 and TTC9B genes that predicted PPD with an area under the receiver operator characteristic (ROC) curve (area under the curve (AUC)) of 0.87 in antenatally euthymic women and 0.12 in a replication sample of antenatally depressed women. Incorporation of blood count data into the model accounted for the discrepancy and produced an AUC of 0.96 across both prepartum depressed and euthymic women. Pathway analyses demonstrated that DNA methylation patterns related to hippocampal synaptic plasticity may be of etiological importance to PPD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA Methylation* / drug effects
  • Depression, Postpartum / blood*
  • Depression, Postpartum / genetics*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic* / drug effects
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Female
  • Genetic Loci
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / physiology
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Pregnancy
  • Prognosis
  • Random Allocation
  • Risk


  • Biomarkers
  • Estrogens
  • Estradiol