Antidepressant use during pregnancy may combine with inflammation to heighten the risk of lifelong neurodevelopmental changes in babies’ brains, such as those linked to autism, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests.
A team of UVA neuroscientists found that commonly used antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can interact powerfully with inflammation in the mother’s body from infections or other sources. In lab mice, this interaction caused harmful changes in the placenta and the decidua — the direct connection between mother and child — and affected the developing brain.
“Our findings suggest that [SSRIs] can have deleterious consequences when mixed with infection, inflammation, etc.,” said senior researcher John Lukens, PhD, of the UVA Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG), as well as the UVA Brain Institute. “Our results might help to explain the rise in autism prevalence over the last 20 years, as this time coincides with the rollout of widespread SSRI usage in the developing world.”
SSRIs During Pregnancy
SSRIs are commonly used during pregnancy, being prescribed to 80% of pregnant women who need depression medication. The drugs are widely considered a safe option for managing depression in pregnant women, though there has been some evidence that they can increase the chances of premature delivery as well as up the risk of neurological issues and other health problems in children.
Lukens and his collaborators found that SSRIs can interact with the mother’s immune system to produce a strong inflammatory reaction at the “maternal-fetal interface,” the physical connection between mother and offspring during pregnancy.
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