Maternal antenatal anxiety and electrophysiological functioning amongst a sub-set of preschoolers participating in the GUSTO cohort

Hong Kuang Tan, Shaun K.Y. Goh, Stella Tsotsi, Michaela Bruntraeger, Helen Yu Chen, Birit Broekman, Kok Hian Tan, Yap Seng Chong, Michael J. Meaney, Anqi Qiu, Anne Rifkin-Graboi

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Background: Antenatal maternal anxiety is a risk for offspring psychological and cognitive difficulties. The preschool years represent an important time for brain development, and so may be a window for intervention. However, electrophysiological investigations of maternal anxiety and preschoolers' brain functioning are lacking. We ask whether anxiety symptoms predict neurophysiology, and consider timing specificity (26-weeks antenatal or 24-months postnatal), form of insult (anxiety symptoms, per se, or also depression symptoms), and offspring gender. Methods: The sample consisted of a subset of 71 mothers and their 3 year old children taking part in the prospective birth cohort, GUSTO. Mothers provided antenatal (26 weeks) and postnatal (2 years) anxiety and depressive symptomatology data, respectively via the "State Trait Anxiety Questionnaire" and the "Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale." Offspring provided electrophysiological data, obtained while they indicated the emotional expression of actors whose facial expressions remained consistent throughout a pre-switch block, but were reversed at "post-switch." Results: Three electrophysiological components linked to different information processing stages were identified. The two earliest occurring components (i.e., the N1 and P2) differed across blocks. During post-switch, both were significantly predicted by maternal anxiety, after controlling for pre-switch neurophysiology. Similar results were observed with depression. Antenatal mental health remained a significant predictor after controlling for postnatal mental health. Conclusion: In combination with past work, these findings suggest the importance of reducing symptoms in women prior to and during pregnancy, and offering support to offspring early in development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number62
JournalBMC psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2020


  • Event related potentials (ERP)
  • Executive functioning
  • Maternal mental health
  • Memory
  • Preschool

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