The immune phenotype of perinatal anxiety

Brain Behav Immun. 2022 Nov:106:280-288. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2022.09.005. Epub 2022 Sep 14.


Background: Immune dysregulation has been linked to both psychiatric illness and pregnancy morbidity, including perinatal depression, but little is known about the immune phenotype of perinatal anxiety. Here, we sought to identify the unique immune profile of antenatal anxiety.

Materials and methods: Pregnant women (n = 107) were followed prospectively at 2nd and 3rd trimesters (T2, T3) and 6 weeks postpartum (PP6). Each visit included a blood draw and psychological evaluation, with clinical anxiety assessed using the Spielberg State-Trait Anxiety Scale. We enrolled both healthy controls and participants with anxiety alone; those with comorbid depression were excluded. Multiplex cytokine assays and flow cytometry were used to examine the association of anxiety symptoms with secreted immune markers and PBMC-derived immune cells.

Results: K cluster means revealed three clusters of anxiety symptomatology; due to low numbers in the highest severity anxiety group, these were collapsed into two groups: Non-Anxiety and Anxiety. Principal components analysis revealed two distinct clusters of cytokine secretion including one cluster that consisted of many innate immune cytokines and differed between groups. Compared to women in the Non-Anxiety group, women in the Anxiety group had lower levels of cytokine expression during pregnancy and an increase in levels into the postpartum, whereas Non-Anxiety women experienced a time-dependent decline. Immune cell populations also differed between our two groups, with the Anxiety group showing a decrease in the ratio of B cells to T cells from pregnancy to postpartum, whereas the Non-Anxiety women showed an increase in this ratio over time. Women in the Anxiety group also demonstrated an increased ratio of cytotoxic to helper T cells throughout pregnancy, a modest increase in the Th1:Th2 ratio across pregnancy, and a lower ratio of Th17:TREG cells in the postpartum as compared with Non-Anxiety women.

Conclusion: These data suggest that the immune response throughout the antenatal period differs for women with anxiety symptoms compared to those without, suggestive of a unique immune phenotype of perinatal anxiety.

Keywords: Anxiety; Anxiety Trajectories; Chemokine; Cytokine; Immune; Perinatal; Postpartum; Pregnancy; Women’s Health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety* / psychology
  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear*
  • Phenotype
  • Pregnancy


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines