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Eur J Pharmacol. 2015 Apr 15;753:257-62. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2014.07.049. Epub 2014 Aug 2.

Antenatal depression and antidepressants during pregnancy: unraveling the complex interactions for the offspring.

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Department of Women׳s and Children׳s Health, Uppsala University, SE-75 185 Uppsala, Sweden; Centre for Gender Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Department of Behavioral Physiology, Center for Behavior and Neurosciences, University Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Department of Women׳s and Children׳s Health, Uppsala University, SE-75 185 Uppsala, Sweden.


During pregnancy the risk for a woman to develop a depressive episode is as high as 20%. Antenatal depression is not harmless for the developing child as several changes, including neurodevelopmental alterations, have been reported. Sometimes it is unavoidable to treat a pregnant mother with antidepressants, especially when she is suicidal. Currently, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the pharmacological choice of antidepressant treatment. SSRIs do not cause gross teratogenic alterations and are generally considered safe for use in pregnancy. However, although SSRIs may relieve the maternal symptoms, they definitively cross the placenta partially influencing the neurodevelopment of the fetus. In this review an overview is given of the effects on the offspring of maternal antenatal depression and the putative neurodevelopmental effects of SSRI treatment during pregnancy. Although we primarily focus on human data, some animal data are discussed to describe possible mechanisms on how SSRIs are affecting underlying biological mechanisms associated with depression. In summary, maternal depression may have long-lasting effects on the offspring, whereas prenatal SSRI exposure also increases the risk for long-lasting effects. It remains to be determined whether the effects found after SSRI treatment in pregnant women are only due to the SSRI exposure or if the underlying depression is also contributing to these effects. The possibility of epigenetic alterations as one of the underlying mechanisms that is altered by SSRI exposure is discussed. However much more research in this area is needed to explain the exact role of epigenetic mechanisms in SSRI exposure during pregnancy.


Antenatal depression; Antidepressants; Epigenetics; Neurodevelopment; Pregnancy; SSRI

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