Effect of parental depressive symptoms on offspring's brain structure and function: A systematic review of neuroimaging studies

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Dec:131:451-465. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.09.046. Epub 2021 Sep 27.


Perinatal Depression (PND) is a severe mental disorder that appears during pregnancy or in the post-partum. Although PND has been associated with behavioral problems in the offspring, its effects on brain development are unclear. With this review we aimed at summarizing the existing literature on the effects of perinatal depressive symptoms on children's brains. A search on PubMed and Embase of structural, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) studies exploring the effect of PND on offspring's brain was conducted. We selected twenty-six studies, ten structural MRI, five DTI, six fMRI and five with combined techniques. Overall, the studies showed: a) gray matter alterations in amygdala and fronto-temporal lobes; b) microstructural alterations in amygdala, frontal lobe, cingulum, longitudinal fasciculus and fornix; and c) functional alterations between limbic and mesocortical networks. The small sample size and the heterogeneity in populations and methodologies limit this review. In conclusion, PND seems to influence structure and function of offspring, that may contribute to the risk of behavioral disturbances later in life.

Keywords: DTI; Maternal depression; Offspring; Postpartum depression; Structural MRI; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Child
  • Depression* / diagnostic imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging
  • Parents
  • Pregnancy
  • White Matter* / pathology