Last updated on March 2018

The Role of Hormones in Postpartum Mood Disorders


Brief description of study

Determine whether postpartum depression is triggered by the abrupt withdrawal of estrogen and progesterone.

The appearance of mood and behavioral symptoms during pregnancy and the postpartum period has been extensively reported. While there has been much speculation about possible biologically based etiologies for postpartum disorders (PPD), none has ever been confirmed. Preliminary results from two related studies (protocols 90-M-0088, 92-M-0174) provide evidence that women with menstrual cycle related mood disorder, but not controls, experience mood disturbances during exogenous replacement of physiologic levels of gonadal steroids. The present protocol is designed to create a "scaled-down" hormonal milieu of pregnancy and the puerperium in order to determine whether women who have had a previous episode of postpartum major effective episode will experience differential mood and behavioral effects compared with controls and to determine whether it is the abrupt withdrawal of gonadal steroids or the prolonged exposure to gonadal steroids that is associated with mood symptoms. Supraphysiologic plasma levels of gonadal steroids will be established, maintained, and then rapidly reduced, simulating the hormonal events that occur during pregnancy and parturition. This will be accomplished by administering estradiol and progesterone to women who are pretreated with a gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist (Lupron). After eight weeks, administration of gonadal steroids will be stopped in one group of patients and controls, and a sudden decline in the plasma hormone levels will be precipitated. Another group will be maintained on supraphysiologic levels of estrogen and progesterone for an additional month. Outcome measures will include mood, behavioral and hormonal parameters as well as response to o-CRH (a separate protocol done in collaboration with NICHD).

Detailed Study Description

The appearance of mood and behavioral symptoms during pregnancy and the postpartum period has been extensively reported. While there has been much speculation about possible biologically based etiologies for postpartum disorders (PPD), none has ever been confirmed. Preliminary results from two related studies (protocols 90-M-0088, 92-M-0174) provide evidence that women with menstrual cycle related mood disorder, but not controls, experience mood disturbances during exogenous replacement of physiologic levels of gonadal steroids. The present protocol is designed to create a scaled-down hormonal milieu of pregnancy and the puerperium in order to determine whether women who have had a previous episode of postpartum major affective episode will experience differential mood and behavioral effects compared with controls and to determine whether it is the abrupt withdrawal of gonadal steroids or the prolonged exposure to gonadal steroids that is associated with mood symptoms. Supraphysiologic plasma levels of gonadal steroids will be established, maintained, and then rapidly reduced, simulating the hormonal events that occur during pregnancy and parturition. This will be accomplished by administering estradiol and progesterone to women who are pretreated with a gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonist (Lupron). After eight weeks, administration of gonadal steroids will be stopped in one group of patients and controls, and a sudden decline in the plasma hormone levels will be precipitated. Another group will be maintained on supraphysiologic levels of estradiol and progesterone for an additional month. Outcome measures will include mood, behavioral, and hormonal parameters as well as response to o-CRH.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT00001481

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National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, 9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD United States
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