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Nat Neurosci. 2017 Feb;20(2):287-296. doi: 10.1038/nn.4458. Epub 2016 Dec 19.

Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure.

Author information

1
Unitat de Recerca en Neurociència Cognitiva, Departament de Psiquiatria i Medicina Legal, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.
2
Brain and Development Laboratory, Leiden University, Leiden, the Netherlands.
3
Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), Leiden University, Leiden, the Netherlands.
4
Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad, Barcelona, Spain.
5
Departamento de Bioingeniería e Ingeniería Aeroespacial, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria Gregorio Marañón, Madrid, Spain.
6
Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Salud Mental (CIBERSAM), Madrid, Spain.
7
Fundació IMIM, Barcelona, Spain.

Abstract

Pregnancy involves radical hormone surges and biological adaptations. However, the effects of pregnancy on the human brain are virtually unknown. Here we show, using a prospective ('pre'-'post' pregnancy) study involving first-time mothers and fathers and nulliparous control groups, that pregnancy renders substantial changes in brain structure, primarily reductions in gray matter (GM) volume in regions subserving social cognition. The changes were selective for the mothers and highly consistent, correctly classifying all women as having undergone pregnancy or not in-between sessions. Interestingly, the volume reductions showed a substantial overlap with brain regions responding to the women's babies postpartum. Furthermore, the GM volume changes of pregnancy predicted measures of postpartum maternal attachment, suggestive of an adaptive process serving the transition into motherhood. Another follow-up session showed that the GM reductions endured for at least 2 years post-pregnancy. Our data provide the first evidence that pregnancy confers long-lasting changes in a woman's brain.

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PMID:
27991897
DOI:
10.1038/nn.4458
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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