Background Exposure to maternal major depressive disorder (MDD) bears long-term negative consequences for children's well-being; to date, no research has examined how exposure at different stages of development differentially affects brain functioning. Aims Utilising a unique cohort followed from birth to preadolescence, we examined the effects of early versus later maternal MDD on default mode network (DMN) connectivity. Method Maternal depression was assessed at birth and ages 6 months, 9 months, 6 years and 10 years, to form three groups: children of mothers with consistent depression from birth to 6 years of age, which resolved by 10 years of age; children of mothers without depression; and children of mothers who were diagnosed with MDD in late childhood. In preadolescence, we used magnetoencephalography and focused on theta rhythms, which characterise the developing brain. Results Maternal MDD was associated with disrupted DMN connectivity in an exposure-specific manner. Early maternal MDD decreased child connectivity, presenting a profile typical of early trauma or chronic adversity. In contrast, later maternal MDD was linked with tighter connectivity, a pattern characteristic of adult depression. Aberrant DMN connectivity was predicted by intrusive mothering in infancy and lower mother-child reciprocity and child empathy in late childhood, highlighting the role of deficient caregiving and compromised socio-emotional competencies in DMN dysfunction. Conclusions The findings pinpoint the distinct effects of early versus later maternal MDD on the DMN, a core network sustaining self-related processes. Results emphasise that research on the influence of early adversity on the developing brain should consider the developmental stage in which the adversity occured.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The study was supported by the Simms/Mann Foundation Chair (grant 001 to R.F.).
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
- Depressive disorders
- childhood experience
- social functioning