In search of neural endophenotypes of postpartum psychopathology and disrupted maternal caregiving

E. L. Moses-Kolko, M. S. Horner, M. L. Phillips, A. E. Hipwell, J. E. Swain

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


This is a selective review that provides the context for the study of perinatal affective disorder mechanisms and outlines directions for future research. We integrate existing literature along neural networks of interest for affective disorders and maternal caregiving: (i) the salience/fear network; (ii) the executive network; (iii) the reward/social attachment network; and (iv) the default mode network. Extant salience/fear network research reveals disparate responses and corticolimbic coupling to various stimuli based upon a predominantly depressive versus anxious (post-traumatic stress disorder) clinical phenotype. Executive network and default mode connectivity abnormalities have been described in postpartum depression (PPD), although studies are very limited in these domains. Reward/social attachment studies confirm a robust ventral striatal response to infant stimuli, including cry and happy infant faces, which is diminished in depressed, insecurely attached and substance-using mothers. The adverse parenting experiences received and the attachment insecurity of current mothers are factors that are associated with a diminution in infant stimulus-related neural activity similar to that in PPD, and raise the need for additional studies that integrate mood and attachment concepts in larger study samples. Several studies examining functional connectivity in resting state and emotional activation functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigms have revealed attenuated corticolimbic connectivity, which remains an important outcome that requires dissection with increasing precision to better define neural treatment targets. Methodological progress is expected in the coming years in terms of refining clinical phenotypes of interest and experimental paradigms, as well as enlarging samples to facilitate the examination of multiple constructs. Functional imaging promises to determine neural mechanisms underlying maternal psychopathology and impaired caregiving, such that earlier and more precise detection of abnormalities will be possible. Ultimately, the discovery of such mechanisms will promote the refinement of treatment approaches toward maternal affective disturbance, parenting behaviours and the augmentation of parenting resiliency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)665-684
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Neuroendocrinology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2014


  • Attachment
  • Brain imaging
  • Caregiving
  • Postpartum depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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