Inflammatory and neurodegenerative pathophysiology implicated in postpartum depression

Ryan J. Worthen, Eleonore Beurel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common psychiatric complication associated with pregnancy and childbirth with debilitating symptoms that negatively impact the quality of life of the mother as well as inflict potentially long-lasting developmental impairments to the child. Much of the theoretical pathophysiology put forth to explain the emergence of PPD overlaps with that of major depressive disorder (MDD) and, although not conventionally described in such terms, can be seen as neurodegenerative in nature. Framing the disorder from the perspective of the well-established inflammatory theory of depression, symptoms are thought to be driven by dysregulation, and subsequent hyperactivation of the body's immune response to stress. Compounded by physiological stressors such as drastic fluctuations in hormone signaling, physical and psychosocial stressors placed upon new mothers lay bare a number of significant vulnerabilities, or points of potential failure, in systems critical for maintaining healthy brain function. The inability to compensate or properly adapt to meet the changing demands placed upon these systems has the potential to damage neurons, hinder neuronal growth and repair, and disrupt neuronal circuit integrity such that essential functional outputs like mood and cognition are altered. The impact of this deterioration in brain function, which includes depressive symptoms, extends to the child who relies on the mother for critical life-sustaining care as well as important cognitive stimulation, accentuating the need for further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105646
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
StatePublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Inflammation
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Postpartum depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology


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