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Not All Antidepressants Taken During Pregnancy Are Safe for Baby

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Some Antidepressants Taken During Pregnancy Aren't Safe for Baby Wouter Tolenaars/PhotoSpin

Pregnant women with a history of anxiety that’s often accompanied by depression can face difficult and confusing choices about treating their symptoms with antidepressants, such as Prozac and Lexapro, and other medications.

Little is currently known about how early exposure to these medications might affect their offspring as they mature into adults. But the answer to that question is essential to the more than 200,000 babies each year who are exposed to antidepressants during gestation via transmission from their mothers.

A new University of California, Los Angeles study sheds light on early developmental exposure to Prozac and Lexapro in a mouse model that mimics human third trimester medication exposure.

Both medications studied are in the same group of serotonin-selective reuptake inhibiting antidepressants (SSRIs), a first-line treatment for severe depression, and for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety disorders.

SSRIs work mainly by blocking serotonin transporter proteins in the brain.

The UCLA team found that, although these SSRIs were previously thought to work the same way, they did not produce the same long-term changes in anxiety behavior in the adult mice.

Study mice exposed to Lexapro had permanent changes in serotonin neurotransmission and were less anxious as adults than the mice exposed to Prozac, said study senior author Anne M. Andrews.

Andrews is a professor of psychiatry and chemistry and biochemistry. She is the Richard Metzner Endowed Chair in Clinical Neuropharmacology at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and California NanoSystems Institute.

“This was quite surprising, since these medications belong to the same drug class and are believed to work by the same mechanism, Andrews said. “The implications of these findings are that with additional investigation, it may be possible to identify specific antidepressants that are safer for pregnant women.”

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