A recent study from the UNC School of Medicine revealed that 14% of the variability in postpartum depression (PPD) is due to genetic factors/on a genetic basis and also provided a glimpse into the connections PPD has with a variety of pre-existing psychiatric disorders. The basis of PPD symptoms lays with GABAergic neurons in the hypothalamus and thalamus; areas of your brain responsible for regulatory functions (hunger, thirst, thyroid function, etc), and seem to have promising advancements for future PPD research. This data was collected using a genome-wide-association study and compiled data in order to get a bigger glimpse into PPD. Jerry Guintivano, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine, was able to identify similarities in the genetic architecture of PPD and major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and polycystic ovary syndrome, meaning "...PPD symptoms likely occur as a result of the interplay between the same genes involved in these other psychiatric and hormone-related conditions." Furthermore, the research concluded a link between PPD, its genetic architectural siblings, and GABAergic neurons in the hypothalamus and thalamus of the brain: neurons releasing GABA neurotransmitters appear to have a link to PPD and its similar familial connections of disorders. Brexanolone is a common drug used to treat PPD and now researchers are able to see the interconnectedness of Brexanolone and the two regions of the brain, which is promising for additional treatment in the foreseeable future. Due to such a wide study and too few PPD cases, however, the researchers at UNC were unable to identify specific locations on the genome or loci that are consistently similar amongst the data group.
This study was fascinating to read and it provided an overlap between multiple specialties in biology -- from neuroscience to anatomy to physiology. Women's health is making big strides in the 21st century and I think this article is just another step towards more progress being made. The linkage between hormones and psychiatric disorders seems to be a hot topic, and scientists had avoided looking at female models for a long time due to the "complexity" of female hormones and their interactions with physiological processes in the body. But now, we have more evidence that encourage this research and should make women feel a lot better about the improvements being made and the connections established between the two factors. Furthermore, the researchers had also confirmed that PPD is genetic which is also a huge step as well! This can impact treatment plans for pregnant women and might improve their quality of postpartum treatment if they are better prepared and more aware of their chances for PPD. Nevertheless, this study was so interesting to read about and I love the idea of its medical/pharmaceutical improvements as well.