Nature Communications | VOL. 13

Mapping the effects of pregnancy on resting state brain activity, white matter microstructure, neural metabolite concentrations and grey matter architecture

Publication Date Nov 22, 2022


While animal studies have demonstrated a unique reproduction-related neuroplasticity, little is known on the effects of pregnancy on the human brain. Here we investigated whether pregnancy is associated with changes to resting state brain activity, white matter microstructure, neural metabolite concentrations and grey matter architecture using a comprehensive pre-conception cohort study. We show that pregnancy leads to selective and robust changes in neural architecture and neural network organization, which are most pronounced in the Default Mode Network. These neural changes correlated with pregnancy hormones, primarily third-trimester estradiol, while no associations were found with other factors such as osmotic effects, stress and sleep. Furthermore, the changes related to measures of maternal-fetal bonding, nesting behavior and the physiological responsiveness to infant cues, and predicted measures of mother-infant bonding and bonding impairments. These findings suggest there are selective pregnancy-related modifications in brain structure and function that may facilitate peripartum maternal processes of key relevance to the mother-infant dyad.


White Matter Microstructure Resting State Brain Activity Default Mode Network Pregnancy Hormones Robust Changes Osmotic Effects Neural Changes Comprehensive Cohort Study Neural Architecture Brain Structure

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