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Birth of the blues: Emotional sound processing in infants exposed to prenatal maternal depression

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2017-2023
Number of pages7
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number11
Published4 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This current study was funded by a grant awarded to MCC by the Psychiatry Research Trust. MCC is also currently funded by the Medical Research Council UK (Grant MR/M013588). Funding also provided by EU-AIMS (European Autism Interventions)/EU AIMS-2-TRIALS, a European Innovative Medicines Joint Undertaking under Grant agreements No. 115300 and 777394, the resources of which are composed of financial contributions from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (Grant FP7/2007-2013). We would like to thank the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London for their ongoing support. Publisher Copyright: Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press.

King's Authors


Background Offspring exposed to prenatal maternal depression (PMD) are vulnerable to depression across their lifespan. The underlying cause(s) for this elevated intergenerational risk is most likely complex. However, depression is underpinned by a dysfunctional frontal-limbic network, associated with core information processing biases (e.g. attending more to sad stimuli). Aberrations in this network might mediate transmission of this vulnerability in infants exposed to PMD. In this study, we aimed to explore the association between foetal exposure to PMD and frontal-limbic network function in infancy, hypothesising that, in response to emotional sounds, infants exposed to PMD would exhibit atypical activity in these regions, relative to those not exposed to PMD. Method We employed a novel functional magnetic resonance imaging sequence to compare brain function, whilst listening to emotional sounds, in 78 full-Term infants (3-6 months of age) born to mothers with and without a diagnosis of PMD. Results After exclusion of 19 datasets due to infants waking up, or moving excessively, we report between-group brain activity differences, between 29 infants exposed to PMD and 29 infants not exposed to PMD, occurring in temporal, striatal, amygdala/parahippocampal and frontal regions (p < 0.005). The offspring exposed to PMD exhibited a relative increase in activation to sad sounds and reduced (or unchanged) activation to happy sounds in frontal-limbic clusters. Conclusions Findings of a differential response to positive and negative valanced sounds by 3-6 months of age may have significant implications for our understanding of neural mechanisms that underpin the increased risk for later-life depression in this population.

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