Can Depression Pass From Mother to Daughter?

By Ernest F (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (

According to a research study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, depression appears to be passed from mother to daughter. Researchers came to the conclusion through studying similarities in the brain structures of females from generation to generation.

The Study

About 8% of people in America aged 12 years and older are affected by depression. The condition is often found in both mothers and daughters, as proven by previous human studies.

Animal studies have shown in the past when mothers experience stress during pregnancy, it is more commonly reflected in the brain structure of daughters than sons. Particularly, in the corticolimbic system.

The corticolimbic system is used to determine danger, it is also where emotions are regulated and processed. The system includes the following: hippocampus, amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex.

Mood disorders such as depression, stress and anxiety will causes changes in these systems. These changes are of a structural nature and are likely to be passed down from the mother, more than the father. These disorders also tend to affect a daughter, more than a son.

A research team from the University of California-San Francisco, led by Dr. Fumiko Hoeft, studied 25 families, none of which had a diagnosis of depression, in an attempt to link the two areas of study.

Similarities between Mother’ and Daughters’ Corticolimbic Systems

Researchers measured the gray matter volume or GMV, in the corticolimbic systems of parents and children. To accomplish this, they used magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.

The results of the MRI showed far more similarities between mothers’ and daughters’ than what was witnessed between fathers and sons or fathers and daughters.

Dr. Hoeft placed an emphasis on the fact that mothers are not responsible for their daughters having depression. She stated, “Many factors play a role in depression: genes that are not inherited from the mother, social environment, and life experiences, to name only three. Mother-daughter transmission is just one piece of it. The research opens the door to a whole new avenue of research looking into intergenerational transmission patterns in the human brain.”

In this study, it was the very first time an MRI had been used for these purposes. Dr. Hoeft thinks the tool can be utilized to investigate depression and other inherited neuropsychiatric conditions such as; dyslexia, autism and schizophrenia.

To consider further variations not included in the study, the researchers are using a technique to view brain structures in cases involving in vitro fertilization for conception and delivery.

Participants in this study will be birth mothers who were implanted using a donor egg, children born after their biological mother’s egg was implanted into a surrogate and mothers who were implanted with their own fertilized eggs, known as homologous IVF.
The study may show whether post and prenatal influences from the mother affect the corticolimbic system, even when there is no maternal genetic material used.


Dr. Hoeft hopes to expand her studies on the links between mother and daughter depression. She believes further study could shed new light on how genetics and the environment affect the structure of the brain, as well as cognitive function. She states in closing, “We will cast a wide net, gain a lot of new information and maximize this fantastic opportunity.”


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