Lay Title: The role of neurosteroids in stress and postnatal depression
Dr Delia Belleli and Professor Jeremy Lambert (Centre for Neuroscience, University of Dundee)
£123,102 over 24 months
Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder in the modern world with an estimated 1 in 10 people diagnosed in the UK each year. Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression than men. Postnatal depression, in particular, affects approximately 13% of women during the first few months following childbirth. It is extremely distressing for the mother and can affect the development of her baby, leading to emotional, behavioural and cognitive developmental problems for the child.
It is widely believed that the dramatic hormonal changes accompanying childbirth are implicated in postnatal depression, but no specific underlying causes have yet been pinpointed. However, a growing body of evidence indicates that a malfunctioning of the brain system regulating the body’s response to stress may play a significant role in postnatal depression. The research team has identified a class of naturally occurring molecules produced in the brain called neurosteroids, which are effective anti-anxiety agents and exhibit stress-protective actions both during early brain development and in adulthood. In this project they propose to investigate the role of neurosteroids in inhibiting stress in order to find out whether their impaired functioning affects the development of postnatal depression.
The researchers have already identified a drug that can modify the function of neurosteroids and it is hoped that if our understanding of the underlying causes of postnatal depression is increased, new treatments and drugs can be developed to effectively manage this distressing condition, which will have enormous benefits for both mother and baby.