Association of Prenatal Maternal Depression and Anxiety Symptoms With Infant White Matter Microstructure

JAMA Pediatr. 2018 Oct 1;172(10):973-981. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2132.


Importance: Maternal depression and anxiety can have deleterious and lifelong consequences on child development. However, many aspects of the association of early brain development with maternal symptoms remain unclear. Understanding the timing of potential neurobiological alterations holds inherent value for the development and evaluation of future therapies and interventions.

Objective: To examine the association between exposure to prenatal maternal depression and anxiety symptoms and offspring white matter microstructure at 1 month of age.

Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study of 101 mother-infant dyads used a composite of depression and anxiety symptoms measured in mothers during the third trimester of pregnancy and measures of white matter microstructure characterized in the mothers' 1-month offspring using diffusion tensor imaging and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging performed from October 1, 2014, to November 30, 2016. Magnetic resonance imaging was performed at an academic research facility during natural, nonsedated sleep.

Main outcomes and measures: Brain mapping algorithms and statistical models were used to evaluate the association between maternal depression and anxiety and 1-month infant white matter microstructure as measured by diffusion tensor imaging and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging findings.

Results: In the 101 mother-infant dyads (mean [SD] age of mothers, 33.22 [3.99] years; mean age of infants at magnetic resonance imaging, 33.07 days [range, 18-50 days]; 92 white mothers [91.1%]; 53 male infants [52.5%]), lower 1-month white matter microstructure (decreased neurite density and increased mean, radial, and axial diffusivity) was associated in right frontal white matter microstructure with higher prenatal maternal symptoms of depression and anxiety. Significant sex × symptom interactions with measures of white matter microstructure were also observed, suggesting that white matter development may be differentially sensitive to maternal depression and anxiety symptoms in males and females during the prenatal period.

Conclusions and relevance: These data highlight the importance of the prenatal period to early brain development and suggest that the underlying white matter microstructure is associated with the continuum of prenatal maternal depression and anxiety symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis*
  • Child Development*
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / diagnosis*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • White Matter / pathology*
  • Young Adult