According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1 in 8 women experience significant symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders that can negatively impact their overall health, daily activities, and family life.

Cedars-Sinai investigators have now discovered that women who developed mood and anxiety disorders related to pregnancy and childbirth had altered proteins circulating in their bloodstream during the third trimester. The study was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. The controlled pilot study included 34 women at risk of developing perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) and 18 controls. Mental health screening was performed in the third trimester and three months after delivery. The investigators utilized a highly sensitive technology called slow off-rate modified aptamers (SOMA) scan to detect plasma biomarkers associated with specific disorders such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

Eynav Accortt, PhD, director of the Reproductive Psychology Program at Cedars-Sinai and corresponding author of the study, stated that “participants with perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD) symptoms had a unique and distinct prenatal plasma protein signature that regulated certain brain signaling activity and pro-inflammatory pathways.”

Accortt also explained that discovering a diagnostic test for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, through biomarker research like this, is a critical first step in the prevention of any disease. Identifying a biomarker could help women and their families recognize the risk earlier and seek intervention, such as education or treatment options.

Further validation studies are necessary to determine whether biomarkers identified in this pilot study can be used with traditional risk factors such as previous depression history or medical complications during pregnancy or childbirth to create protocols for early detection. Maternal mental illness left untreated can result in significant financial and societal costs. One study estimated that the national cost of untreated maternal mental illness in 2017 was $14 billion.

“In addition to the financial costs of mood disorders associated with pregnancy and childbirth, including reduced economic productivity and more preterm births, children and the family structure can be deeply affected. We need research-based diagnostics developed so we can help women find a pathway to wellness and be able to emerge out of the shadow of debilitating mood disorders that harm their health and the health of their families,” said Sarah Kilpatrick, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai and study co-author.

The study was supported by various organizations, including the National Institutes of Health National Center for Advancing Translational Science and Postpartum Support International.

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