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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 16;109 Suppl 2:17221-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1121263109. Epub 2012 Oct 8.

Prenatal exposure to antidepressants and depressed maternal mood alter trajectory of infant speech perception.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Language acquisition reflects a complex interplay between biology and early experience. Psychotropic medication exposure has been shown to alter neural plasticity and shift sensitive periods in perceptual development. Notably, serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) are antidepressant agents increasingly prescribed to manage antenatal mood disorders, and depressed maternal mood per se during pregnancy impacts infant behavior, also raising concerns about long-term consequences following such developmental exposure. We studied whether infants' language development is altered by prenatal exposure to SRIs and whether such effects differ from exposure to maternal mood disturbances. Infants from non-SRI-treated mothers with little or no depression (control), depressed but non-SRI-treated (depressed-only), and depressed and treated with an SRI (SRI-exposed) were studied at 36 wk gestation (while still in utero) on a consonant and vowel discrimination task and at 6 and 10 mo of age on a nonnative speech and visual language discrimination task. Whereas the control infants responded as expected (success at 6 mo and failure at 10 mo) the SRI-exposed infants failed to discriminate the language differences at either age and the depressed-only infants succeeded at 10 mo instead of 6 mo. Fetuses at 36 wk gestation in the control condition performed as expected, with a response on vowel but not consonant discrimination, whereas the SRI-exposed fetuses showed accelerated perceptual development by discriminating both vowels and consonants. Thus, prenatal depressed maternal mood and SRI exposure were found to shift developmental milestones bidirectionally on infant speech perception tasks.

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