Blood test due for postpartum depression?

Genetic variants that affect activity of the HPA axis are present in women who experience postpartum depression, suggesting the possibility that a diagnostic test could be developed.

Postpartum depression is a specific subcategory of depression with a distinct genetic element.

Women who develop postpartum depression were more likely to have gene variants that control activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.

A simple blood test soon may be able to predict which new mothers will suffer from
postpartum depression, a condition that affects approximately 1 in every 7 women who give birth.

Investigators from the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, identified specific gene variants in women with postpartum depression. Their findings indicate that postpartum depression is a “specific subgroup of depression with a distinct genetic element,” meaning that some women are genetically more prone to react to depression-related environmental triggers. Although current tools can screen for postpartum depression after it has occurred, these findings, according to the authors, would provide an opportunity to identify women at highest risk before the condition appears.

Presenting their research at the joint 15th International Congress of Endocrinology/14th European Congress of Endocrinology in Florence, Italy (May 5-9, 2012), the investigators assessed 200 pregnant women for postpartum depression using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Score, once during their first visit to an antenatal clinic and again 2 to 8 weeks after they gave birth.

They found that the women who developed postpartum depression were more likely to have gene variants of the glucocorticoid receptor gene and the corticotrophin-releasing hormone receptor-1 gene, both of which control the activity of the HPA axis.

Although experts already knew an association existed between the HPA axis and depression, this study demonstrates a link between specific elements of this pathway and a specific type of depression, which could eventually allow early identification and treatment of the disorder, the authors suggest.

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