Brain Changes found in Newborns exposed to Antidepressants

Antidepressive treatment during pregnancy can affect newborn brain activity

A first of its kind neuroscience study, published this month in Cerebral Cortex, found changes in the brain electrical activity of infants exposed to SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy. The changes are associated with less-organized communication between the brain’s hemispheres and are comparable to the effects found in previous animal studies.

New Study Finds Brain Changes in Newborns Exposed to Antidepressants, madinamerica, June 17, 2016.

The researchers call for more critical evaluations of the prescription of antidepressants during pregnancy and suggest that non-pharmacologic and therapeutic alternatives should be the preferred treatment.


Newborn Brain Function Is Affected by Fetal Exposure to Maternal Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, cercor.oxfordjournals, doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhw153, June 6, 2016.

Recent experimental animal studies have shown that fetal exposure to serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) affects brain development. Modern recording methods and advanced computational analyses of scalp electroencephalography (EEG) have opened a possibility to study if comparable changes are also observed in the human neonatal brain. We recruited mothers using SRI during pregnancy (n = 22) and controls (n = 62). Mood and anxiety of mothers, newborn neurology, and newborn cortical function (EEG) were assessed. The EEG parameters were compared between newborns exposed to drugs versus controls, followed by comparisons of newborn EEG features with maternal psychiatric assessments. Neurological assessment showed subtle abnormalities in the SRI-exposed newborns. The computational EEG analyses disclosed a reduced interhemispheric connectivity, lower cross-frequency integration, as well as reduced frontal activity at low-frequency oscillations. These effects were not related to maternal depression or anxiety. Our results suggest that antenatal serotonergic treatment might change newborn brain function in a manner compatible with the recent experimental studies.

Antidepressive treatment during pregnancy can affect newborn brain activity, University of Helsinki, 15.6.2016. Photo Sampsa Vanhatalo.

The present EEG findings suggest links at the level of neuronal activity between human studies and animal experiments. These links will also enable bidirectional translation in future studies on the neuronal mechanisms and long-term neurodevelopmental effects of early SRI exposure.

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