Antenatal maternal depression, early life inflammation and neurodevelopment in a South African birth cohort

Petrus J.W. Naudé, Carmine Pariante, Nadia Hoffman, Sheri Michelle Koopowitz, Kirsten A. Donald, Heather J. Zar, Dan J. Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Antenatal exposure to maternal psychological adversity, including depression, increases the risk of impaired neurodevelopment in children. The underlying biological mechanisms remain unclear, especially in early life during critical windows of development and maturation. This study investigated the association of antenatal maternal depression, maternal and early life inflammatory markers and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children at 2 years of age. Methods: A subgroup of mothers and their children (n = 255) that were enrolled in a South African birth cohort study, the Drakenstein Child Health Study, were followed from the antenatal period through to 2 years of child age. Maternal depressive symptoms were measured by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) at 26 weeks gestation. Serum inflammatory markers [granulocyte–macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), interferon-γ (IFN-γ), interleukin IL-1β, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-7, IL-8, IL-10, IL-12p70, IL-13, tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL) and metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9)] were measured in mothers at enrolment and in their children at 6–10 weeks and at 2 years. Neurodevelopment was assessed at 2 years using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development III. Results: Antenatal depressive symptoms (present in 25% of the mothers) were significantly associated with higher levels of IL-7 (p = 0.008), IL-8 (p = 0.019) and TNF-α (p = 0.031) in the mothers after correcting for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors. Serum IL-1β and NGAL levels were significantly elevated over time in children born to mothers with depressive symptoms compared to those without depression, after controlling for maternal and child health and sociodemographic factors. Elevated infant IL-1β at 6–10 weeks of age partially mediated the association of maternal depressive symptoms with poorer language scores at 2 years. Conclusion: Alterations in early life immunity, as reflected by elevated IL-1β, is a potential pathway through which antenatal maternal depressive symptoms may impact language development in young children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-168
Number of pages9
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytokines
  • Depression
  • Inflammation
  • Longitudinal
  • Offspring
  • Prenatal


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