Many women suffer from baby blues after giving birth. Some even develop full-blown postpartum depression in the weeks that follow. Monoamine oxidase A, an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, plays an important role in this condition. In comparison to healthy women, women who experience postpartum depression present strongly elevated levels of the enzyme in their brains. This was discovered by a research team from the Max Planck Institute. Their findings could help in the prevention of postpartum depression and in the development of new drugs for its treatment.
For most women, the birth of their baby is one of the most strenuous but also happiest days in their lives. However, joy and happiness are often followed by fatigue and exhaustion. The vast majority of women experience a temporary drop in mood for a few days after birth. These symptoms of ‘baby blues’ are not an illness; however, in some cases they can represent early signs of an imminent episode of depression: in 13 percent of mothers, the emotional turmoil experienced after childbirth leads to the development of a full-blown postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is harmful not only to the mother, but also to the baby. It is difficult to treat this condition effectively, as its precise neurobiological causes have remained unidentified to date.
The new study shows that postpartum depression is accompanied by strongly elevated monoamine oxidase A in the brain, particularly in the prefrontal cortex and in the anterior cingulate cortex. In women with postpartum depression, the values recorded were 21 percent higher than those of women who were not plagued by negative feelings after giving birth. Women who did not develop full-blown depression but found themselves crying more often than usual due to depressed mood also presented moderately elevated values.
Therefore, researchers should promote strategies that help to reduce monoamine oxidase A levels in the brain, and avoid everything that makes these values rise. Such factors include heavy smoking, alcohol consumption and chronic stress, for example when the mother feels neglected and abandoned by her partner and family. The team’s ultimate goal is to provide women and their families with very concrete lifestyle recommendations that will enable them to prevent postpartum depression.
A new generation of long-established drugs could also play an important role in the treatment of postpartum depression in future. Up to now, depressed mothers are mainly given drugs that increase the concentration of serotonin in the brain. However, because monoamine oxidase A breaks down not only serotonin but also other monoamines like dopamine and noradrenaline, a treatment that directly targets monoamine oxidase A could have a higher success rate, particularly in very serious cases: this alternative is provided by selective and reversible monoamine-oxidase- A inhibitors.
The first monoamine oxidase inhibitors often had severe side effects, for example hypertensive crises, which necessitated adherence to a strict diet. However, the new selective and reversible drugs are better tolerated. In the next stage of this research involving clinical trials, the scientists intend to test the effectiveness of these reversible monoamine oxidase A inhibitors in the treatment of postpartum depression.
Because the measurement of this enzyme in the brain requires complex technology, it is not suitable for routine testing. Thus, the researchers are also looking for a peripheral marker of this enzyme that can be detected in saliva or blood.
Four years ago the team succeeded in showing that, in the first week postpartum, the concentration of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A in the brain is on average 40 percent higher than in women who had not recently given birth. The monoamine oxidase A values behave in the opposite way to oestrogen levels. When oestrogen levels drop acutely after childbirth, the concentration of monoamine oxidase A rises. This drastic change also influences serotonin levels, known as the happiness hormone. In most women, the values quickly return to normal. In others, they remain raised, and thereby promote the development of depression.
biomarker, depression, healthinnovations, monoamine oxidase A, neurobiology, neuroimaging, neuroinnovations, neurology, neuropsychiatry, neuroscience, neurotransmission, postpartum depression, serotonin
Michelle Petersen is the founder of Healthinnovations, having worked in the health and science industry for over 21 years, which includes tenure within the NHS and Oxford University. Healthinnovations is a publication that has reported on, influenced, and researched current and future innovations in health for the past decade.
Michelle has been picked up as an expert writer for Informa publisher’s Clinical Trials community, as well as being listed as a blog source by the world’s leading medical journals, including the acclaimed Nature-Springer journal series.
Healthinnovations is currently indexed by the trusted Altmetric and PlumX metrics systems, respectively, as a blog source for published research globally. Healthinnovations is also featured in the world-renowned BioPortfolio, BioPortfolio.com, the life science, pharmaceutical and healthcare portal.
Most recently the Texas A&M University covered The Top 10 Healthinnovations series on their site with distinguished Professor Stephen Maren calling the inclusion of himself and his team on the list a reflection of “the hard work and dedication of my students and trainees”.
Michelle Petersen’s copy was used in the highly successful marketing campaign for the mega-hit film ‘Jumanji: The Next Level, starring Jack Black, Karen Gilian, Kevin Hart and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Michelle Petersen’s copywriting was part of the film’s coverage by the Republic TV network. Republic TV is the most-watched English language TV channel in India since its inception in 2017.
An avid campaigner in the fight against child sex abuse and trafficking, Michelle is a passionate humanist striving for a better quality of life for all humans by helping to provide traction for new technologies and techniques within healthcare.