The role of central serotonergic markers and estradiol changes in perinatal mental health

Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2022 Jun 21. doi: 10.1111/acps.13461. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Objective: Women have an increased risk for mental distress and depressive symptoms in relation to pregnancy and birth. The serotonin transporter (SERT) may be involved in the emergence of depressive symptoms postpartum and during other sex-hormone transitions. It may be associated with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of the main serotonin metabolite 5-hydroxyindolacetic acid (5-HIAA). In 100 healthy pregnant women, who were scheduled to deliver by caesarean section (C-section), we evaluated 5-HIAA and estradiol contributions to mental distress five weeks postpartum.

Methods: Eighty-two women completed the study. CSF collected at C-section was analyzed for 5-HIAA, with high performance liquid chromatography. Serum estradiol concentrations were quantified by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry before C-section and postpartum. Postpartum mental distress was evaluated with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Associations between EPDS, 5-HIAA, and Δestradiol were evaluated in linear regression models adjusted for age, parity and SERT genotype.

Results: Higher levels of postpartum mental distress symptoms were negatively associated with a large decrease in estradiol concentrations (βΔE2 = 0.73, p=0.007) and, on a trend level, positively associated with high antepartum 5-HIAA levels (β5-HIAA =0.002, p=0.06).

Conclusion: In a cohort of healthy pregnant women, postpartum mental distress was higher in women with high antepartum 5-HIAA (trend) and lower in women with a large perinatal estradiol decrease. We speculate that high antepartum 5-HIAA is a proxy of SERT levels, that carry over to the postpartum period and convey susceptibility to mental distress. In healthy women, the postpartum return to lower estradiol concentrations may promote mental well-being.

Keywords: estradiol; mental health; postpartum; pregnancy; serotonin.