Psychology, Department of



Date of this Version



2019 Lorenz et al.


Lorenz TK, Cheng H, Heiman JR (2019) Neural correlates of emotion processing comparing antidepressants and exogenous oxytocin in postpartum depressed women: An exploratory study. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0217764.


Despite common use of antidepressants to treat postpartum depression, little is known about the impact of antidepressant use on postpartum brain activity. Additionally, although oxytocin has been investigated as a potential treatment for postpartum depression, the interaction between antidepressants and exogenous oxytocin on brain activity is unknown. We explored postpartum depressed women’s neural activation in areas identified as important to emotion and reward processing and potentially, antidepressant response: the amygdala, nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. We conducted a secondary analysis of a functional imaging study of response to sexual, crying infant and smiling infant images in 23 postpartum depressed women with infants under six months (11 women taking antidepressants, 12 unmedicated). Participants were randomized to receive a single dose of oxytocin or placebo nasal spray. There was significantly higher amygdala activation to sexual stimuli than either neutral or infant-related stimuli among women taking antidepressants or receiving oxytocin nasal spray. Among unmedicated women receiving placebo, amygdala activation was similar across stimuli types. There were no significant effects of antidepressants nor oxytocin nasal spray on reward area processing (i.e., in the nucleus accumbens or ventral tegmental area). Among postpartum women who remain depressed, there may be significant interactions between the effects of antidepressant use and exogenous oxytocin on neural activity associated with processing emotional information. Observed effect sizes were moderate to large, strongly suggesting the need for further replication with a larger sample.

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