Prenatal maternal distress impairs newborn amygdala growth

January 31, 2021
Lindsey Carr

Associate Editor for Contemporary OB/GYN

This article is on based on information presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting, which will be held from Jan. 25 to Jan. 30.

For more information and registration details, visit SMFM.org

A study presented at SMFM’s 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting found that prenatal maternal mental distress is associated with impaired amygdala growth in newborns and impacts cognitive and motor skills in infants at 18 months.

Researchers from Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC investigated whether prenatal maternal stress, anxiety and depression were associated with postnatal brain growth and infant neurodevelopmental outcomes at 18 months.

Of 116 women, 96 completed mental distress measures twice at different gestational ages (32.0±4.5, 23-40 gestational weeks). 101 newborns underwent postnatal MRI (41.9±1.9, 38-47 gestational weeks); and 87 infants completed neurodevelopmental testing at 18 months.

Evaluations of prenatal maternal stress, anxiety, and depression used the Perceived Stress Scale, Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, respectively.

Neonates were scanned on a 3T MRI scanner with an 8-channel hi-res brain array receive-only coil. Neonatal brain MR images were segmented into cortical grey matter, white matter, deep grey matter, cerebellum, brainstem, left and right hippocampus and amygdala via Draw-EM pipeline. Infant neurodevelopment was evaluated via Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development III at 18 months.

They found that prenatal maternal anxiety was associated with a smaller left and right amygdala in newborns, and lower cognitive scores in infants at 18 months. Prenatal maternal stress was also associated with decreased cognitive and motor scores at 18 months.