Perinatal maternal depressive symptoms alter amygdala functional connectivity in girls

Hum Brain Mapp. 2018 Feb;39(2):680-690. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23873. Epub 2017 Nov 2.


Perinatal maternal depressive symptoms influence brain development of offspring. Such effects are particularly notable in the amygdala, a key structure involved in emotional processes. This study investigated whether the functional organization of the amygdala varies as a function of pre- and postnatal maternal depressive symptoms. The amygdala functional network was assessed using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) in 128 children at age of 4.4 to 4.8 years. Maternal depressive symptoms were obtained at 26 weeks of gestation, 3 months, 1, 2, 3, and 4.5 years after delivery. Linear regression was used to examine associations between maternal depressive symptoms and the amygdala functional network. Prenatal maternal depressive symptoms were significantly associated with the functional connectivity between the amygdala and the cortico-striatal circuitry, especially the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), insula, subgenual anterior cingulate (ACC), temporal pole, and striatum. Interestingly, greater pre- than post-natal depressive symptoms were associated with lower functional connectivity of the left amygdala with the bilateral subgenual ACC and left caudate and with lower functional connectivity of the right amygdala with the left OFC, insula, and temporal pole. These findings were only observed in girls but not in boys. Early exposure to maternal depressive symptoms influenced the functional organization of the cortico-striato-amygdala circuitry, which is intrinsic to emotional perception and regulation in girls. This suggests its roles in the transgenerational transmission of vulnerability for socio-emotional problems and depression. Moreover, this study underscored the importance of gender-dependent developmental pathways in defining the neural circuitry that underlies the risk for depression.

Keywords: amygdala functional network; maternal depressive symptoms; resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging; sexual dimorphism; transgenerational transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / growth & development*
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child, Preschool
  • Depression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / growth & development
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rest