Maternal prenatal depression is associated with increased likelihood of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions in offspring. The relationship between maternal depression and offspring outcome may be mediated by in-utero changes in brain development. Recent advances in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have enabled in vivo investigations of neonatal brains, minimising the effect of postnatal influences. The aim of this study was to examine associations between maternal prenatal depressive symptoms, infant white matter, and toddler behaviour. 413 mother-infant dyads enrolled in the developing Human Connectome Project. Mothers completed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (median = 5, range = 0–28, n = 52 scores ≥ 11). Infants (n = 223 male) (median gestational age at birth = 40 weeks, range 32.14–42.29) underwent MRI (median postmenstrual age at scan = 41.29 weeks, range 36.57–44.71). Fixel-based fibre metrics (mean fibre density, fibre cross-section, and fibre density modulated by cross-section) were calculated from diffusion imaging data in the left and right uncinate fasciculi and cingulum bundle. For n = 311, internalising and externalising behaviour, and social-emotional abilities were reported at a median corrected age of 18 months (range 17–24). Statistical analysis used multiple linear regression and mediation analysis with bootstrapping. Maternal depressive symptoms were positively associated with infant fibre density in the left (B = 0.0005, p = 0.003, q = 0.027) and right (B = 0.0006, p = 0.003, q = 0.027) uncinate fasciculus, with left uncinate fasciculus fibre density, in turn, positively associated with social-emotional abilities in toddlerhood (B = 105.70, p = 0.0007, q = 0.004). In a mediation analysis, higher maternal depressive symptoms predicted toddler social-emotional difficulties (B = 0.342, t(307) = 3.003, p = 0.003), but this relationship was not mediated by fibre density in the left uncinate fasciculus (Sobel test p = 0.143, bootstrapped indirect effect = 0.035, SE = 0.02, 95% CI: [−0.01, 0.08]). There was no evidence of an association between maternal depressive and cingulum fibre properties. These findings suggest that maternal perinatal depressive symptoms are associated with neonatal uncinate fasciculi microstructure, but not fibre bundle size, and toddler behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Article number323
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Early online date9 Aug 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Aug 2022


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