The effects of maternal depression and maternal selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor exposure on offspring

Front Cell Neurosci. 2013 May 21;7:73. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2013.00073. eCollection 2013.


It has been estimated that 20% of pregnant women suffer from depression and it is well-documented that maternal depression can have long-lasting effects on the child. Currently, common treatment for maternal depression has been the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications (SSRIs) which are used by 2-3% of pregnant women in the Nordic countries and by up to 10% of pregnant women in the United States. Antidepressants cross the placenta and are transferred to the fetus, thus, the question arises as to whether children of women taking antidepressants are at risk for altered neurodevelopmental outcomes and, if so, whether the risks are due to SSRI medication exposure or to the underlying maternal depression. This review considers the effects of maternal depression and SSRI exposure on offspring development in both clinical and preclinical populations. As it is impossible in humans to study the effects of SSRIs without taking into account the possible underlying effects of maternal depression (healthy pregnant women do not take SSRIs), animal models are of great value. For example, rodents can be used to determine the effects of maternal depression and/or perinatal SSRI exposure on offspring outcomes. Unraveling the joint (or separate) effects of maternal depression and SSRI exposure will provide more insights into the risks or benefits of SSRI exposure during gestation and will help women make informed decisions about using SSRIs during pregnancy.

Keywords: 5-HTT; SSRI; maternal depression; neurodevelopment; serotonin.