Prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) was associated with fetal brain development in brain regions important in emotional processing, results of an imaging study show.
Compared to controls, SSRI-exposed infants had significant gray matter volume expansion and increased white matter structural connectivity in the amygdala and insula, according to results published in.
“Our findings suggest a potential association between prenatal SSRI exposure, likely via aberrant serotonin signaling, and the development of the amygdala-insula circuit in the fetal brain,” wrote Claudia Lugo-Candelas, PhD, of Columbia University Medical Center, New York, and her coauthors.
An increasing number of pregnant women are taking SSRIs, in part due to increased awareness of the negative effects of untreated prenatal maternal depression (PMD), the investigators said in their report.
“Because untreated PMD poses risks to both the infant and mother, the decision to initiate, continue, or suspend SSRI treatment remains a clinical dilemma,” they wrote.
Animal studies suggest atypical serotonergic signaling from prenatal SSRI exposure could change fetal brain development and affect function later in life, they explained.
Studies in humans have produced mixed results, but in a recent national registry study including more than 15,000 individuals exposed to SSRIs prenatally, exposure was linked to increased rates of depression.