Publication Details

Millard, S. J., Weston-Green, K. & Newell, K. A. (2017). The effects of maternal antidepressant use on offspring behaviour and brain development: Implications for risk of neurodevelopmental disorders. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 80 743-765.


Approximately 10% of pregnant women are prescribed antidepressant drugs (ADDs), with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) the most widely prescribed. SSRIs bind to the serotonin transporter (SERT), blocking the reabsorption of serotonin by the presynaptic neuron and increasing serotonin levels in the synaptic cleft. The serotonergic system regulates a range of brain development processes including neuronal proliferation, migration, differentiation and synaptogenesis. Given the presence of SERT in early brain development, coupled with the ability of SSRIs to cross the placenta and also enter breast milk, concerns have been raised regarding the effects of SSRI exposure on the developing foetus and newborns. In this review, we evaluate preclinical and clinical studies that have examined the effects of maternal SSRI exposure and the risk for altered neurodevelopment and associated behaviours in offspring. While the current body of evidence suggests that maternal SSRI treatment may cause perturbations to the neurobiology, behaviour and ultimately risk for neurodevelopmental disorders in exposed offspring, conflicting findings do exist and the evidence is not conclusive. However, given the increasing incidence of depression and number of women prescribed ADDs during pregnancy, further investigation into this area is warranted.



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