Is There a Gene for Postpartum Depression?

This article first appeared in the Psychiatric Times. Learn about Brain Rules here.

The transition to parenthood is filled to the brim with behavioral extremes. Parents who are otherwise emotionally stable are in one moment thrilled and happier than they have ever been and confused and fearful the next. A friend of mine once theorized that these reactions occur because “parenting is an amateur sport” played by persons who are highly motivated to do the right thing but who often have no idea what that right thing is.

For some couples, the transition to parenthood is not filled with this rich mixture of great perplexity and great joy. For them, parenthood is mostly filled with sadness and even despair. Postpartum depression was originally coined to describe this experience in the mother, although it is becoming clear that fathers can experience very similar emotions too.

Is there a molecular basis for postpartum depression—at least for the type that mothers experience? Recent findings, which I describe here, may answer this question. First, we will focus on several background behavioral and molecular issues and then move on to some interesting data about births in genetically manipulated laboratory animals.

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