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Introduction: Stress in pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes in offspring, and developmental programming is a potential mechanism. We have previously shown that depression in pregnancy is a valid and clearly defined stress paradigm, and both maternal antenatal and offspring stress-related biology is affected. This study aims to clarify whether maternal biology in pregnancy and offspring outcomes can also be influenced by a history of a prior depression, in the absence of depression in pregnancy. Our primary hypothesis is that, similarly to women with depression in pregnancy, women with a history of depression but who are not depressed in pregnancy will have increased cortisol secretion and markers of immune system function, and that their offspring will have poorer neuro-developmental competencies and increased cortisol stress response. Methods: A prospective longitudinal design was used in 59 healthy controls and 25 women with a past history of depression who were not depressed in pregnancy, named as ‘history-only’, and their offspring. Maternal antenatal stress-related biology (cortisol and markers of immune system function) and offspring outcomes (gestational age at birth, neonatal neurobehaviour (Neonatal Behavioural Assessment Scale, NBAS), cortisol stress response and basal cortisol at 2 and 12 months) and cognitive, language and motor development (Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (BSID)) were measured. Results: Compared with healthy pregnant women, those with a history of depression who remain free of depression in pregnancy exhibit increased markers of immune system function in pregnancy: IL-8 (d = 0.63, p = 0.030), VEGF (d = 0.40, p = 0.008) and MCP-1 (d = 0.61, p = 0.002) and have neonates with lower neurobehavioural scores in most areas, reaching statistical significance in the social-interactive (d = 1.26, p = 0.015) cluster. However, there were no differences in maternal or offspring HPA axis function or in infant development at 12 months. Conclusion: Our study indicates that pregnant women with a history of depression have increased markers of immune system function, and their offspring show behavioural alterations that may be the effects of in utero programming, epigenetic factors or genetic predisposition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-230
Number of pages8
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Early online date10 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Depression
  • Developmental programming
  • Genetics
  • Offspring
  • Pregnancy


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