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Brain changes associated with pregnancy

Brain changes associated with pregnancy

Principal Investigator: Dr Susanna Carmona
Approved Research ID: 55993
Approval date: March 23rd 2020

Lay summary

Pregnancy involves radical hormone surges and biological adaptations that can lead to health problems. However, the effects of pregnancy on the human brain, and its implication to psychopathology remain understudied. In a previous study, we showed that pregnancy renders substantial gray matter reductions in regions involved in maternal behavior.

The project proposed in this application aims to gain insights into the way a woman's brain (as assessed by different MRI techniques) changes during pregnancy. In particular, we want to test whether brain changes are restricted to the first years of motherhood or whether they endure for several years. We also aim to test if brain changes associated with pregnancy are related to gestational factors (number of previous pregnancies, and number of babies born from each pregnancy), and to an increased risk for the development of mental disorders.


We will compare different brain metrics (anatomy, structural connectivity, and functional connectivity) across three main groups: nulliparous women, primiparous women, and multiparous women. We hypothesize that: 1) mother (primiparous and multiparous) will have less grey matter volume in regions involved in maternal behaviours, and 2) mothers will differ from nulliparous women in metrics of functional and structural connectivity. In addition, we want to explore whether there is an association between brain differences (mothers vs. non-mothers), and gestational, cognition, and psychiatric factors. 


This project represents a challenge for advancing in the scientific understanding of one of the most important dimensions of a living being: motherhood. Its results can impact different clinical areas, such as neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative conditions, reproductive biology, psychiatry, and developmental psychology.