The researchers found that negative emotional faces activated the left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which is a social cognition region of the brain, significantly less in depressed mothers than in healthy mothers. Deficits in this region, they said, might represent diminished awareness of the emotions of others and less empathy for them. Another key finding was that when the women saw negative images, communication between the left dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the left amygdala was present in healthy moms but not in the depressed ones, suggesting that this might be an important neural circuit that regulates emotional response to unpleasant sounds, such as a baby's cry.
The study, which was partly funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, was published Sept. 15 in the online advance edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Moses-Kolko said more research is needed "to determine what brain patterns are predictive of response to an array of treatments including psychotherapy, medications or hormones."
"This is a very interesting study, but it's really just the beginning," said Michael W. O'Hara, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who specializes in perinatal depression. "More studies need to be done in a much larger sample of women, to see if the results can be replicated."
O'Hara added: "It's my belief that postpartum depression is a heterogeneous disorder that includes depression that is coincidental with childbirth, and depression that is inextricably related to it." Future MRI studies need to dif
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