Pregnancy and adolescence entail similar neuroanatomical adaptations: A comparative analysis of cerebral morphometric changes

Hum Brain Mapp. 2019 May;40(7):2143-2152. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24513. Epub 2019 Jan 20.


Mapping the impact of pregnancy on the human brain is essential for understanding the neurobiology of maternal caregiving. Recently, we found that pregnancy leads to a long-lasting reduction in cerebral gray matter volume. However, the morphometric features behind the volumetric reductions remain unexplored. Furthermore, the similarity between these reductions and those occurring during adolescence, another hormonally similar transitional period of life, still needs to be investigated. Here, we used surface-based methods to analyze the longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging data of a group of 25 first-time mothers (before and after pregnancy) and compare them to those of a group of 25 female adolescents (during 2 years of pubertal development). For both first-time mothers and adolescent girls, a monthly rate of volumetric reductions of 0.09 mm3 was observed. In both cases, these reductions were accompanied by decreases in cortical thickness, surface area, local gyrification index, sulcal depth, and sulcal length, as well as increases in sulcal width. In fact, the changes associated with pregnancy did not differ from those that characterize the transition during adolescence in any of these measures. Our findings are consistent with the notion that the brain morphometric changes associated with pregnancy and adolescence reflect similar hormonally primed biological processes.

Keywords: MRI; adolescence; cortex; hormones; neuroanatomy; plasticity; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends*
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Young Adult