In a new study, scientists have discovered a way of identifying which women are most at risk of postnatal depression (PND) by checking for specific genetic variants.
The findings of the study, conducted by researchers at Warwick Medical School, could lead to the development of a simple and accurate blood test that checks for the likelihood of developing the condition.
Dimitris Grammatopoulos, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Warwick, said that approximately one in seven women who give birth suffer from PND, which normally starts around two weeks after childbirth.
“Current screening policies rely on the opportunistic finding of PND cases using tools such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Score (EPDS), but such tests cannot identify women at risk, ahead of them developing the condition,” he said.
For the study, the researchers assessed a group of 200 pregnant women for PND using the EPDS, once during their first visit to the ante-natal clinic, and again two to eight weeks after they had given birth.
They found that the women who developed PND were more likely to have specific genetic variants of the bcl1 and rs242939 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the glucocorticoid receptor and the corticotrophin-releasing hormone receptor-1 genes, respectively.
These receptors control the activity of the hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis - an endocrine system that is activated in response to stress.
The hypothalamus is part of the brain that monitors many aspects of the state of the body’s systems and is closely linked with the pituitary gland, which releases a number of hormones into the blood stream that control vital body functions.
The findings of the study were presented at the International Congress of Endocrinology and European Congress of Endocrinology.