Send to

Choose Destination
J Neuroendocrinol. 2019 Sep 5:e12790. doi: 10.1111/jne.12790. [Epub ahead of print]

Amygdala and affective responses to infant pictures; comparing depressed and non-depressed mothers and non-mothers.

Author information

Neuroscience Graduate Program, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON, Canada, L8S 4K1.
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga Road N Mississauga, ON, Canada, L5L1C6, Mississauga.
Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour (PNB), McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.
Department of Psychiatry &, Behavioural Neurosciences McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.
Women-s Health Concerns Clinic, St. Joseph-s Healthcare Hamilton, ON, Canada.


In many mammalian species, new mothers show heightened positive responsiveness to infants and their cues when they give birth. As evident from non-human and human studies, the amygdala is a brain region implicated in both the maternal and affective neural circuitry, and is involved in processing socioemotionally salient stimuli. In humans, infants are socially salient stimuli to women, and mothers in particular. Neuroimaging studies investigating the maternal response to infant cues have identified infant-related amygdala function as an important factor in maternal anxiety/depression, in quality of mothering, and in individual differences in the motivation to mother. This study investigated the effects of maternal status and depression on the subjective affective response and amygdala responsiveness to Unfamiliar infants using fMRI. Smiling infant pictures were used in a 2x2 design comparing four groups of women: mothers and non-mothers, with and without depression (total of 101 women: PPD=32, non-PPD=25, MDD=15, non-MDD=29). We undertook an anatomically defined ROI analysis of the amygdala response for a priori defined group comparisons. We found that mothers rated infants more positively than non-mothers and non-mothers rated non-infant stimuli (scenery) more positively than mothers. In the amygdala, we found that depression elevated response to smiling Unfamiliar infants in mothers but had no effect in non-mothers. Within the depressed groups, mothers (PPD) showed an elevated amygdala response to unfamiliar smiling infants compared to depressed non-mothers. Hence, our results indicate that women with PPD show an enhanced amygdala response to affectively positive infant pictures, but not to affectively positive (but non-salient) pictures of scenery. Women with depression outside of the postpartum period show no change in amygdala responsiveness to either stimulus categories. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


amygdala; depression; infant pictures; maternal status


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center