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Prog Brain Res. 2001;133:303-19.

Pregnancy and post partum: changes in cognition and mood.

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Andrus Gerontology Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA.


Steroidal hormones are increasingly recognized as highly relevant in multiple aspects of brain functioning. While basic science has actively worked to advance understanding of fundamental steroid mechanisms within the brain, investigation of the neurobehavioral outcomes of reproductive hormone actions on the human brain has received less attention. We argue that the dramatic steroidal hormone changes seen in human reproduction must be systematically studied and may provide novel explanations of cognitive and mood disorders associated with reproductive events. This chapter provides a review of current literature establishing a role for a variety of steroids on neuroactivity, and evidence from a variety of observational and experimental paradigms linking hormones and clinical aspects of cognition and mood in humans. The specific hormonal changes of pregnancy are described and discussed in relation to concomitant alterations in cognition and mood across the peri-natal period. A review of studies that have systematically observed cognitive and affective changes both during pregnancy and the post-partum period is presented, as well as new data that follow a small cohort of women for an extended period of time after delivery. We conclude that women may show specific areas of cognitive changes during and after pregnancy, notably deficits in verbal learning and memory. Mood appears to be impacted as well. While steroidal hormones show a pattern of associations with mood during and after pregnancy, no such pattern is evident for cognition. The embryonic state of our knowledge regarding reproductive hormones and neurobehavioral functioning is evident, as are the scientific and public health reasons to redress this lacuna.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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