Bidirectional association between autoimmune disease and perinatal depression: a nationwide study with sibling comparison

Mol Psychiatry. 2024 Jan 9. doi: 10.1038/s41380-023-02351-1. Online ahead of print.


Although major depression, characterized by a pro-inflammatory profile, genetically overlap with autoimmune disease (AD) and the perinatal period involve immune system adaptations and AD symptom alterations, the bidirectional link between perinatal depression (PND) and AD is largely unexplored. Hence, the objective of this study was to investigate the bidirectional association between PND and AD. Using nationwide Swedish population and health registers, we conducted a nested case-control study and a matched cohort study. From 1,347,901 pregnancies during 2001-2013, we included 55,299 incident PND, their unaffected full sisters, and 10 unaffected matched women per PND case. We identified 41 subtypes of AD diagnoses recorded in the registers and compared PND with unaffected population-matched women and full sisters, using multivariable regressions. Women with an AD had a 30% higher risk of subsequent PND (95% CI 1.2-1.5) and women exposed to PND had a 30% higher risk of a subsequent AD (95% CI 1.3-1.4). Comparable associations were found when comparing exposed women with their unaffected sisters (nested case-control OR: 1.3, 95% CI 1.2-1.5, matched cohort HR: 1.3, 95% CI 1.1-1.6), and when studying antepartum and postpartum depression. The bidirectional association was more pronounced among women without psychiatric comorbidities (nested case-control OR: 1.5, 95% CI 1.4-1.6, matched cohort HR: 1.4, 95% CI 1.4-1.5) and strongest for multiple sclerosis (nested case-control OR: 2.0, 95% CI 1.6-2.3, matched cohort HR: 1.8, 95% CI 1.0-3.1). These findings demonstrate a bidirectional association between AD and PND independent of psychiatric comorbidities, suggesting possibly shared biological mechanisms. If future translational science confirms the underlying mechanisms, healthcare providers need to be aware of the increased risk of PND among women with ADs and vice versa.