Antidepressants Impact Brain Development – Neuroscience News

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Summary: Using antidepressants during pregnancy, specifically fluoxetine (found in Prozac and Sarafem), can significantly affect a child’s brain development, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, potentially increasing the risk of mental health disorders later in life.

The research highlights how serotonin, boosted by fluoxetine, directly impacts the development of synaptic connections in the prefrontal cortex, a critical area for high-order cognitive functions.

This study is pioneering in providing experimental evidence of serotonin’s role in early brain development and underscores the need for careful consideration and individualized care in prescribing antidepressants during pregnancy.

Key Facts:

  1. Serotonin’s Role in Brain Development: The study identifies how serotonin directly influences the development of the prefrontal cortex during pregnancy, altering excitatory synaptic connections, which can lead to mental health disorders.
  2. First Evidence of Fluoxetine’s Impact: This research provides the first experimental evidence of the direct effects of fluoxetine on the developing prefrontal cortex, highlighting the drug’s ability to cross the placenta and enter breast milk.
  3. Potential for Early Intervention: Understanding the specific mechanisms by which serotonin affects brain development opens new avenues for early intervention and the creation of therapeutics targeting neurodevelopmental disorders related to serotonin dysregulation.

Source: University of Colorado

A new study published in Nature Communications provides direct evidence that antidepressant use during pregnancy can impact a child’s brain development and contribute to the risk of mental health disorders later in life.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, focused on the effect of fluoxetine, commonly used in medications such as Prozac and Sarafem for treating depression and perinatal depression, on a developing prefrontal cortex.

Since fluoxetine works by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, the researchers looked at the impact serotonin has on prefrontal cortex development in a fetus.

“While it is known that serotonin plays a role in the brain development, the mechanisms responsible for this influence, specifically in the prefrontal cortex, have been unclear.

“The prefrontal cortex, the most evolved brain region, plays a central role in highest-order cognition, which is why we focused our study on finding the answer from this brain area,” said lead author Won Chan Oh, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at CU Anschutz.

Oh and his student, Roberto Ogelman, a neuroscience PhD candidate, found serotonin directly influences nascent and immature excitatory synaptic connections in the prefrontal cortex, which if disrupted or dysregulated during early development can contribute to various mental health disorders. 

“Our research uncovers the specific processes at the synaptic level that explain how serotonin contributes to the development of this important brain region during early-life fluoxetine exposure,” adds Oh.

“We are the first to provide experimental evidence of the direct impact of serotonin on the developing prefrontal cortex when fluoxetine is taken during pregnancy, because fluoxetine not only crosses the placenta but also passes into breast milk.”

To study the effect, the researchers looked at the impact of deficiency and surplus of serotonin on brain development in mice. They discovered that serotonin is not just involved in overall brain function but also has a specific role in influencing how individual connections between neurons change and adapt, contributing to the brain’s ability to learn and adjust.

“Understanding this correlation has the potential to help with early intervention and the development of new therapeutics for neurodevelopmental disorders involving serotonin dysregulation,” said Oh.

The researchers say healthcare professionals should be involved in decision-making around individualized care for pregnant women, including discussing the benefits and side effects of antidepressants and possible non-pharmacological interventions for postpartum depression.

The researchers plan to continue studying the impact of fluoxetine, next examining its impact on a developing teenage brain.

About this psychopharmacology and neurodevelopment research news

Author: Julia Milzer
Source: University of Colorado
Contact: Julia Milzer – University of Colorado
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: The findings will appear in Nature Communications

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