University of Wisconsin–Madison

Andrew Alexander, PhD – Slide of the Week

Alexander Slide of the Week

Title: Associations of prenatal maternal depression and anxiety symptoms with infant white matter microstructure

Legend: Decreased frontal neurite density in the prefrontal white matter (blue highlighted regions) of 1-month old infants was associated with higher  prenatal maternal depression and anxiety.  Advanced diffusion MRI brain scans were performed on 101 infants at the Waisman Center for this study. From Dean et al., JAMA Pediatrics, in press.

Citation: Dean DC III, Planalp EM, Wooten W, Kecskemeti SR, Adluru N, Schmidt CK, Frye C, Birn RM, Burghy CA, Schmidt NL, Styner MA, Kalin NH, Short SJ, Goldsmith HH, Alexander AL, Davidson RJ. Associations of prenatal maternal depression and anxiety symptoms with infant white matter microstructure. JAMA Pediatrics In Press

Abstract: Importance – Maternal depression and anxiety can have deleterious and lifelong consequences on child development. However, many aspects of early brain development’s association with maternal symptomology remains unclear. Understanding the timing of potential neurobiological alterations holds inherent value for the development and evaluation of future therapies and interventions. Objective – To examine the association between exposure to prenatal maternal depression and anxiety symptomology and offspring white matter microstructure at 1-month of age. Design – This cohort study uses a composite of depression and anxiety symptoms measured in mothers during the third trimester of pregnancy and measures of white matter microstructure characterized in the mothers’ 1-month offspring using diffusion tensor imaging and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging. Setting – Magnetic resonance imaging was performed at an academic research facility during natural, nonsedated sleep. Participants – The cohort analyzed in this study consisted of 101 mother-infant dyads. Main Outcomes and Measures – Brain mapping algorithms and statistical models were used to evaluate the relationships between maternal depression and anxiety and 1-month infant white matter microstructure, as measured by diffusion tensor imaging and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging parameters. ResultsLower 1-month white matter microstructure (decreased neurite density and increased mean, radial and axial diffusivity) was associated in right frontal white matter microstructure with higher prenatal maternal symptoms of depression and anxiety. Significant sex-by-symptomology interactions with measures of white matter microstructure were also observed. These findings suggest that white matter development may be differentially sensitive to maternal depression and anxiety symptomology in males and females during the prenatal period. Conclusions and Relevance – These data highlight the importance of the prenatal period to early brain development and suggest the underlying white matter microstructure is associated with the continuum of prenatal maternal depression and anxiety symptomology.

About the Lab: Alexander’s research focuses on the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for mapping and measuring the functional and structural organization of the human brain. These techniques are used to investigate the brain in both typically developing individuals and subjects with developmental disorders including autism. Functional MRI (fMRI) is used to assess brain regions associated with cognition and affect and their dysfunctions in these populations. Diffusion tensor MRI (DT-MRI) is used to study the patterns of structural connectivity between brain activity regions. Anatomic imaging methods are used to assess longitudinal structural changes in brain regions. These measurements are ultimately compared with measures of affect, behavior and cognition in specific population groups.

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