Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences

Use of antidepressants during pregnancy causes structural changes in the brain of the unborn child

6 February 2012

The use of certain antidepressants by pregnant women influences the development of the brain of their foetus, according to researchers of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The results of their research was published in 'Neuropharmacology'.

The use of certain antidepressants by pregnant women influences the development of the brain of their foetus, according to researchers of the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The results of their research was published in Neuropharmacology.

The UvA-researchers show that Prozac (Fluoxetine) causes lifelong structural changes in the brain of newly born mice that were exposed during development. Moreover, these mice exhibit more depressed and anxiety-like behaviour, permanently reversing the effect of the mother’s medication in the offspring.

Prozac is supposed to block the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This causes an increase in the amount of serotonin available for neurotransmission in the receptors of the brain. The UvA researchers show that one of these receptors, the serotonin 5-HT3-receptor, is of great importance for the (adverse) effects of Prozac on the development of the brain. When the receptor is blocked or genetically removed, the effect of Prozac on both the structural development of the brain as well as the resulting behaviour is no longer present.

Does this mean women should no longer take Prozac during their pregnancy? Depression during pregnancy is a serious affliction for both mother and child and should not go untreated. However, it seems wise to select the type of antidepressant with care: antidepressants that are not taken up by the placenta might be preferable to Prozac.

Publication details

Smit-Rigter LA, Noorlander CW, von Oerthel L, Chameau P, Smidt MP, van Hooft JA: Prenatal fluoxetine exposure induces life-long serotonin 5-HT3 receptor-dependent cortical abnormalities and anxiety-like behaviour. Neuropharmacology (24 sept. 2011).

Published by  Swammerdam Institute