We examined plasma oxytocin concentration and postpartum depression (PPD) symptom severity in women who were not depressed during pregnancy and whether this differed by major depressive disorder (MDD) history. We assessed psychiatric history and plasma oxytocin in 66 healthy pregnant women in the third trimester (M = 35 ± 3 weeks) and depressive symptoms at 6 weeks postpartum (M = 5.9 ± 0.8 weeks). Linear regression analysis was used to examine oxytocin and PPD symptom severity and moderation of oxytocin and PPD by past MDD. Women with (n = 13) and without (n = 53) past MDD differed in third trimester depressive symptom severity, but not oxytocin level, demographic factors, or birth outcomes. Controlling for third trimester depressive symptoms, oxytocin level was unrelated to PPD symptom severity [B(SE) = −.019 (.084); β = −.025; t = −.227; p = .821]. However, oxytocin level interacted with past MDD to predict PPD symptom severity [B(SE) = 7.489 (2.429); β = .328; t = 3.084; p = .003]. Higher oxytocin predicted greater PPD symptom severity in women with past MDD (p = .019), but not in women without (p = .216). Replication in a larger sample and methodologic challenges are discussed.
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We are deeply appreciative of the women who volunteered their time and efforts to participate in this study, and Rebecca L. Newmark, BA, for editorial assistance in the preparation of this manuscript for publication.
All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board of Northwestern University prior to conduct and were performed in accordance with the ethical standards as laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.
This work was funded by the Evergreen Invitational Women’s Health Grant from the Northwestern Memorial Foundation to Dr. Massey (9/12/13 agreement date), and grant K23 DA037913 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to Dr. Massey. The Evergreen Invitational, Northwestern Memorial Foundation, and NIDA had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of data, writing the manuscript, or the decision to submit the paper for publication.
Conflicts of interest
The Department of Psychiatry at Northwestern University received contractual fees for Dr. Wisner’s consultation to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP (New York City), who represents Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company.
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Massey, S.H., Schuette, S.A., Pournajafi-Nazarloo, H. et al. Interaction of oxytocin level and past depression may predict postpartum depressive symptom severity. Arch Womens Ment Health 19, 799–808 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-016-0616-6
- Postpartum depression
- Oxytocin receptor gene