Maternal depression, antidepressant use and placental oxytocin receptor DNA methylation: Findings from the MPEWS study

Megan Galbally, Joanne Ryan, Marinus van IJzendoorn, Stuart J. Watson, Olav Spigset, Martha Lappas, Richard Saffery, Ron de Kloet, Andrew James Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to investigate placental DNA methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) in women with depression in pregnancy. We also explored the role of antidepressant medication in pregnancy on placental OXTR methylation. Data were obtained from 239 women in the Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Wellbeing Study (MPEWS), a selected pregnancy cohort. Current depressive disorders were diagnosed using the Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (SCID-IV). Depressive symptoms were measured during the third trimester in pregnancy using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Plasma levels of antidepressant drugs were measured in maternal and cord blood obtained at delivery. OXTR DNA methylation was measured in placenta samples. Depressive symptoms in pregnancy were not associated with significant changes in DNA methylation of OXTR in the placenta. Cord plasma antidepressant levels were more strongly associated than maternal antidepressant dose or circulating blood antidepressant levels with increased DNA methylation of a specific unit within the promotor region of OXTR. This study provides preliminary data to suggest that antidepressant use during pregnancy can alter OXTR methylation in placental tissue. Our findings also indicate that the way exposures are measured in pregnancy can influence the direction and strength of findings. Future studies should investigate whether altered OXTR methylation might mediate the impacts of maternal antidepressant treatment on pregnancy and offspring outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Antidepressants
  • Depression
  • DNA methylation
  • OXTR
  • Placenta

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