Maternal prenatal depression is associated with decreased placental expression of the imprinted gene PEG3

Psychol Med. 2016 Oct;46(14):2999-3011. doi: 10.1017/S0033291716001598. Epub 2016 Aug 15.


Background: Maternal prenatal stress during pregnancy is associated with fetal growth restriction and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, which may be mediated by impaired placental function. Imprinted genes control fetal growth, placental development, adult behaviour (including maternal behaviour) and placental lactogen production. This study examined whether maternal prenatal depression was associated with aberrant placental expression of the imprinted genes paternally expressed gene 3 (PEG3), paternally expressed gene 10 (PEG10), pleckstrin homology-like domain family a member 2 (PHLDA2) and cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1C (CDKN1C), and resulting impaired placental human placental lactogen (hPL) expression.

Method: A diagnosis of depression during pregnancy was recorded from Manchester cohort participants' medical notes (n = 75). Queen Charlotte's (n = 40) and My Baby and Me study (MBAM) (n = 81) cohort participants completed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale self-rating psychometric questionnaire. Villous trophoblast tissue samples were analysed for gene expression.

Results: In a pilot study, diagnosed depression during pregnancy was associated with a significant reduction in placental PEG3 expression (41%, p = 0.02). In two further independent cohorts, the Queen Charlotte's and MBAM cohorts, placental PEG3 expression was also inversely associated with maternal depression scores, an association that was significant in male but not female placentas. Finally, hPL expression was significantly decreased in women with clinically diagnosed depression (44%, p < 0.05) and in those with high depression scores (31% and 21%, respectively).

Conclusions: This study provides the first evidence that maternal prenatal depression is associated with changes in the placental expression of PEG3, co-incident with decreased expression of hPL. This aberrant placental gene expression could provide a possible mechanistic explanation for the co-occurrence of maternal depression, fetal growth restriction, impaired maternal behaviour and poorer offspring outcomes.

Keywords: PEG3; Human placental lactogen; prenatal depression.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Depression / genetics
  • Depression / metabolism*
  • England
  • Female
  • Gene Expression / genetics*
  • Genomic Imprinting / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Placenta / metabolism*
  • Placental Lactogen / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / genetics
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*
  • Sex Factors


  • Kruppel-Like Transcription Factors
  • PEG3 protein, human
  • Placental Lactogen