Maternal Antidepressants Have Subtle Effects on Newborn Brain Activity Interview with:

Mari Videman Senior Consultant in Child Neurology BABA Center Children’s Hospital, Helsinki University Hospital

Dr. Mari Videman

Mari Videman
Senior Consultant in Child Neurology
BABA Center
Children’s Hospital, Helsinki University Hospital What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Depression and anxiety are common during pregnancy, and up to 5% of all pregnant women are treated with serotonin uptake inhibitors (SRI). It is now known that SRIs do not cause major malformations in humans, however recent animal studies have suggested that fetal early SRI exposure may cause changes in brain microstructure and neuronal signaling. Prior human studies have shown that fetal SRI exposure leads to transient postnatal adaptation syndrome, as well as to an increased risk of developing childhood depression.

We used electroencephalography (EEG) and advanced computational methods to assess both the local and global cortical function of the newborn brain. We found that several aspects of newborn brain activity are affected by exposuse to SRI during pregnancy. Most importantly, the communication between brain hemispheres, and the synchronization between cortical rhythms were weaker in the SRI-exposed newborns. These changes were most likely related to SRI exposure, because they did not correlate with the psychiatric symptoms of the mothers. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our study emphasizes that the newborn brain function may be affected by fetal drug exposure even if the drug is not causing macroscopic anomalies. The long term consequencies of these effects are not known, however this work calls for more careful assessment of fetal drug effects. This study also supports the recent recommendations to consider non-pharmacological interventions as the first-line option during pregnancy. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The newly developed, quantitative EEG method presented here for the first time in psychiatric research has facilitated the possibilities to examine newborn brain function in detail, and may thus improve the translational research between animal models and research on human infants. Our EEG findings were intriguingly compatible with recent animal studies, hence animal models could be used to further examine the underlying mechanism and developmental implications. In humans, the effect of interaction with parents becomes an important factor affecting assessment of the developmental effects that originate in the fetal period. Furthermore, we urge for future studies to find effective alternatives to pharmacological treatment of depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Women with ongoing SRI medication should ideally be evaluated before pregnancy. In close follow-up, the SRI medication should be decreased or gradually stopped with help of focused therapeutic interventions. For example, group therapy has shown promise in treating depression and anxiety during pregnancy, and could be extending the wellbeing of both mother and baby. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Mari Videman, Anton Tokariev, Heini Saikkonen, Susanna Stjerna, Hannu Heiskala, Outi Mantere, Sampsa Vanhatalo.Newborn Brain Function Is Affected by Fetal Exposure to Maternal Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Cerebral Cortex, 2016; bhw153
DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhw153

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on June 20, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD