Original Research Obstetrics|Articles in Press

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders: biomarker discovery using plasma proteomics

Published:January 14, 2023DOI:


      Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders encompass a range of mental health disorders that occur during pregnancy and up to 1 year postpartum, affecting approximately 20% of women. Traditional risk factors, such as a history of depression and pregnancy complications including preeclampsia, are known. Their predictive utility, however, is not specific or sensitive enough to inform clinical decision-making or prevention strategies for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Better diagnostic and prognostic models are needed for early identification and referral to treatment.


      This study aimed to determine if a panel of novel third-trimester plasma protein biomarkers in pregnant women can be used to identify those who have a high predisposed risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders within 3 months postpartum.

      Study Design

      We studied 52 women (n=34 with a risk for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and n=18 controls) among whom mental health screening was conducted at 2 time points, namely in the third trimester and again at 3 months postdelivery. An elevated perinatal mood and anxiety disorder risk was identified by screening individuals with above-validated cutoffs for depression (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale ≥12), anxiety (Overall Anxiety Severity and Impairment Scale ≥7), and/or posttraumatic stress disorder (Impact of Events Scale >26) at both time points. Plasma samples collected in the third trimester were screened using the aptamer-based SomaLogic SomaScan proteomic assay technology to evaluate perinatal mood and anxiety disorder–associated changes in the expression of 1305 protein analytes. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis was conducted to highlight pathophysiological relationships between perinatal mood and anxiety disorder–specific proteins found to be significantly up- or down-regulated in all subjects with perinatal mood and anxiety disorder and in those with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and no preeclampsia.


      From a panel of 53 significant perinatal mood and anxiety disorder–associated proteins, a unique 20-protein signature differentiated perinatal mood and anxiety disorder cases from controls in a principal component analysis (P<.05). This protein signature included NCAM1, NRCAM, and NTRK3 that converge around neuronal signaling pathways regulating axonal guidance, astrocyte differentiation, and maintenance of GABAergic neurons. Interestingly, when we restricted the analysis to subjects without preeclampsia, a 30-protein signature differentiated perinatal mood and anxiety disorder cases from all controls without overlap on the principal component analysis (P<.001). In the nonpreeclamptic perinatal mood and anxiety disorder group, we observed increased expression of proteins, such as CXCL11, CXCL6, MIC-B, and B2MG, which regulate leucocyte migration, inflammation, and immune function.


      Participants with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders had a unique and distinct plasma protein signature that regulated a variety of neuronal signaling and proinflammatory pathways. Additional validation studies with larger sample sizes are needed to determine whether some of these molecules can be used in conjunction with traditional risk factors for the early detection of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

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