Cortical Development Mediates Association of Prenatal Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Child Reward Sensitivity: A Longitudinal Study

Dongtao Wei, Han Zhang, Birit F.P. Broekman, Yap Seng Chong, Lynette P. Shek, Fabian Yap, Kok Hian Tan, Peter D. Gluckman, Michael J. Meaney, Marielle V. Fortier, Anqi Qiu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Objective: Maternal depression during pregnancy has long-term impacts on offspring. This study used neuroimaging and behavioral data from children aged 4 to 6 years and investigated whether prenatal maternal depressive symptoms (pre-MDS) associated with child cortical morphological development and subsequent reward-related behaviors in preschoolers. Method: Pre-MDS was measured using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale at 26 weeks of pregnancy. Children (n = 130) underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at both 4 and 6 years of age. Child sensitivity to reward and punishment was reported by mothers when children were 6 years of age. Linear mixed-effect models examined pre-MDS associations with child cortical thickness and surface area. Mediation analysis examined whether cortical development mediated associations between pre-MDS and child sensitivity to reward and punishment. Results: The 3-way interactions of pre-MDS, age, and sex on cortical thickness and surface area were not statistically significant. We found a significant interaction of pre-MDS with sex on the cortical surface area but not on thickness or their growth from 4 to 6 years, adjusting for ethnicity, socioeconomic status, baseline age, and postnatal MDS as covariates. Higher pre-MDS scores were associated with larger surface areas in the prefrontal cortex, superior temporal gyrus, and superior parietal lobe (SPL) in boys, whereas the opposite pattern was seen in girls. The SPL surface area mediated the relationship between pre-MDS and sensitivity to reward in girls. Conclusion: Prenatal maternal depression alters the cortical morphology of pre-schoolers in a sex-dependent manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)392-401
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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