T-cell defects and postpartum depression

Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Jul:87:397-403. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2020.01.007. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Background: Most studies of immune dysregulation in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders have focused on peripheral cytokines, but literature from non-perinatal mood disorders also implicates T-cell defects. We sought to characterize proportions of T-cell subtypes in women with postpartum depression.

Materials and methods: We enrolled 21 women with postpartum depression (PPD), 39 healthy postpartum controls, and 114 healthy non-postpartum women. Blood was collected in sodium-heparin EDTA tubes and was analyzed using flow cytometry. We conducted statistical tests including linear regression analysis that were aimed at determining differences in proportions of T cell populations among groups.

Results: Mean counts of T-cells (all CD3+ T cells), T-helper cells, (CD3+CD4+ T cells), and T-cytotoxic cells (CD3+CD8+ T cells) were significantly increased in healthy postpartum women compared to healthy non-postpartum controls (p < 0.001, p = 0.007, and p = 0.002, respectively), but not in women with PPD. The increases in healthy postpartum women were driven by increases in TH1 cells and T regulatory cells, increases that were nonexistent or attenuated in women with postpartum depression. Mean counts of CD4+ T-helper memory cells were also increased in healthy postpartum women (p = 0.009), but slightly decreased in women with PPD (p = 0.066), when compared to healthy non-postpartum controls.

Conclusions: Our study confirms that the postpartum period in healthy women is a time of enhanced T cell activity. Women with postpartum depression failed to show physiological enhanced T-cell activity postpartum, and future research is needed to elucidate etiological mechanisms and consequences.

Keywords: Depression; Immune; Mood; Postpartum; Pregnancy; T cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Depression, Postpartum*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory