Nature Communications: Taking antidepressants during pregnancy alters fetal brain development, study shows

February 23, 2024  10:58

Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have proven that the use of antidepressants during pregnancy has a significant effect on the development of a child's brain, affecting the formation of connections in the prefrontal cortex. This region plays a key role in complex cognitive functions.

The study was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The experts' conclusions are based on experiments performed on newborn rodents, which enable a better understanding of the role of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter whose level regulation underlies the treatment of depressive disorders with drugs.

The researchers chose mice because the critical stages of brain development in these animals are similar to those in humans. The test subjects were given the common antidepressant fluoxetine, better known by the brand name Prozac.

According to previous studies, fluoxetine can enter the baby's body before birth through the placenta, and after birth—through breast milk.

Tests have shown that increased levels of serotonin in the brain increase the density and strength of synapses in the prefrontal cortex, while a lack of the neurotransmitter has the opposite effect. In mice, fluoxetine stopped affecting brain development three weeks after birth.

"Our research uncovers the specific processes at the synaptic level that explain how serotonin contributes to the development of this important brain region during early-life fluoxetine exposure," said study author and assistant professor Won Chan Oh.

The researchers emphasized, however, that the long-term effect of stimulating brain development in infants while taking antidepressants is still unclear and requires further study.

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