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Birth Defects Res. 2017 Jul 17;109(12):924-932. doi: 10.1002/bdr2.1085.

New Insights into How Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors Shape the Developing Brain.

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Columbia University Medical Center, Psychiatry, New York, New York.


Development passes through sensitive periods, during which plasticity allows for genetic and environmental factors to exert indelible influence on the maturation of the organism. In the context of central nervous system (CNS) development, such sensitive periods shape the formation of neuro-circuits that mediate, regulate, and control behavior. This general mechanism allows for development to be guided by both the genetic blueprint, as well as the environmental context. While allowing for adaptation, such sensitive periods are also windows of vulnerability during which external and internal factors can confer risk to brain disorders by derailing adaptive developmental programs. Our group has been particularly interested in developmental periods that are sensitive to serotonin (5-HT) signaling, and impact behavior and cognition relevant to psychiatry. Specifically, we review a 5-HT-sensitive period that impacts fronto-limbic system development, resulting in cognitive, anxiety, and depression-related behaviors. We discuss preclinical data to establish biological plausibility and mechanistic insights. We also summarize epidemiological findings that underscore the potential public health implications resulting from the current practice of prescribing 5-HT reuptake inhibiting antidepressants during pregnancy. These medications enter the fetal circulation, likely perturb 5-HT signaling in the brain, and may be affecting circuit maturation in ways that parallel our findings in the developing rodent brain. More research is needed to better disambiguate the dual effects of maternal symptoms on fetal and child development from the effects of 5-HT reuptake inhibitors on clinical outcomes in the offspring. Birth Defects Research 109:924-932, 2017.


Critical Period; Depression; Human; Limbic System; Mice; Pregnancy; SSRI; Sensitive Period

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