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Long-term association of pregnancy and maternal brain structure: the Rotterdam Study

By Jurate Aleknaviciute, Tavia E. Evans, Elif Aribas, Merel W. de Vries, Eric AP Steegers, M. Arfan Ikram, Henning Tiemeier, Maryam Kavousi, Meike W Vernooij, Steven A. Kushner

Posted 20 Feb 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.19.432038

The peripartum period is the highest risk interval for the onset or exacerbation of psychiatric illness in womens lives. Notably, pregnancy and childbirth have been associated with short-term structural and functional changes in the maternal human brain. Yet the long-term effects of parity on maternal brain structure remain unknown. Therefore, we utilized a large population-based cohort to examine the association between parity and brain structure. In total, 2,835 women (mean age 65.2 years; all free from dementia, stroke, and cortical brain infarcts) from the Rotterdam Study underwent magnetic resonance imaging (1.5 T) between 2005 and 2015. Associations of parity with global and lobar brain tissue volumes, white matter microstructure, and markers of vascular brain disease were examined using regression models. We found that parity was associated with a larger global gray matter volume ({beta}= 0.14, 95% CI = 0.09-0.19), a finding that persisted following adjustment for sociodemographic factors. A non-significant dose-dependent relationship was observed between a higher number of childbirths and larger gray matter volume. The gray matter volume association with parity was globally proportional across lobes. No associations were found regarding white matter volume or integrity, nor with markers of cerebral small vessel disease. The current findings indicate that pregnancy and childbirth are associated with robust long-term changes in brain structure involving larger global gray matter volume that persists for decades. Taken together, these data provide novel insight into the impact of motherhood on the human brain.

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