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expert reaction to mouse study on antidepressant use in pregnancy and offspring response to stimuli

A study, published in the journal eneuro, reports on the impact on offspring of SSRI medication use in mouse pregnancy.


Prof Ian Jones, Professor of Psychiatry, and Director of the National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University, said:

“This is an interesting study that adds to our understanding of the implications of taking SSRI medication in pregnancy. The study finds evidence that there are functional impacts that can be seen in adulthood for mice exposed to fluoxetine in utero. However, we should be cautious in extrapolating findings in mice to humans and it is not clear what impact similar changes would have in people. The other important question not addressed by this work is the potential impact of untreated mental illness on children whose mothers were very unwell in pregnancy.

“Depression can be a severe condition with serious implications for a woman, her baby and her wider family. As the recently published confidential enquiry into maternal deaths reminds us, suicide remains the leading cause of death in the year following childbirth. Any decision about the use of medication in the pregnancy must be made in light of weighing the risks against the potential benefits of all options. Guilt can be prominent in depression, and one unintended consequence of work like this may be to make women more guilty about the decisions they have made. For women who are pregnant or thinking about having a baby, it is an excellent time to ask whether medication is needed, and indeed to explore other evidence based treatment options. For some women however, the balance of risks and benefits will mean that a decision to take medication will be a reasonable one. In particular, women should not stop their medication abruptly without discussing the options with their doctor.”


Prof David Nutt, The Edmond J Safra Chair and Head of the Centre for Neuropsychopharmacology, Division of Brain Sciences,  Dept of Medicine, Imperial College London, said:

“Similar claims have been made for decades in mice and rat studies but clearly no clinically relevant effects in humans have been reported.”


‘Maternal fluoxetine exposure alters cortical hemodynamic and calcium response of offspring to somatosensory stimuli’ by Rachel M. Rahn et al. was published in eneuro at 18.00 UK time on Monday 16th December. 

DOI: 10.1523/ENEURO.0238-19.2019


Declared interests

Prof Ian Jones:  Academic perinatal psychiatrist with interest in perinatal mental health in my clinical work and research.

Trustee of Maternal Mental Health Alliance

Trustee of Action on Postpartum Psychosis


None others received.

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