A group of researchers was able to identify associations between particular genes and the development of postpartum depression (PPD) that can help to identify those who have high risks and would need extra postpartum care. As the role of oxytocin in maternal status is essential, the researchers hypothesized that the receptors for the said hormone may also contribute to the association between the genetic and epigenetic markers in the gene that is said to put a woman more at risk of developing PPD.

The researchers collated data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to test their hypothesis. They were able to obtain information from 14,541 pregnancies in women whose expected date of delivery were between April 1991 and December 1992. The survey was initiated during the start of the pregnancy, which also included medical records review and collection of biological specimens from both mothers and babies. The blood samples were extracted from the mothers when they were on the 7th-14th age of gestation, particularly during their routine antenatal care visits. The researchers then studied the relationship between the blood-drawn genetic/epigenetic variation in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) and the occurrence of PPD, which pertains to the show of depressive symptoms starting from the 8th week of pregnancy. The researchers looked into the increased manifestations of PPD in pregnancy because levels may differ between pregnant and non-pregnant women, and depression during pregnancy is known to signify the impending development of PPD.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Genetics, show that there is indeed a relationship between the genotype rs53576, the regulation of gene expression levels of OXTR and the development of PPD. The researchers were also able to discover that women who did not show depressive symptoms during pregnancy but has the specific genotype and OXTR methylation may develop PPD by up to three times more than women who do not have the said genetical components.

"We can greatly improve the outcome of this disorder with the identification of markers, biological or otherwise, that can identify women who may be at risk for its development," says Jessica Connelly, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of Psychology at University of Virginia. Women who exhibit depressive symptoms during pregnancy are known to have a high risk of suffering from PPD. But through this study, women who were not depressed during pregnancy also exhibited PPD so the markers determined may help affected women even before they deliver.

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