The effects of pregnancy on the human brain


Pregnancy is a biological process accompanied by substantial physiological, hormonal and physical changes. In fact, the massive flood of pregnancy hormones represents the most extreme endogenous endocrine event of human life. Animal studies have demonstrated that the hormonal surges of pregnancy induce a substantial and enduring reorganization of the brain. In humans, however, although less extreme endocrine events such as puberty are known to dramatically alter neural structure and function, the effects of pregnancy on the human brain are virtually unknown. In this application, preliminary results are presented that suggest that the brain of a pregnant woman indeed also undergoes extensive structural modifications. Following up on these preliminary data, the longitudinal neuroimaging project proposed in this application will allow us to gain key insights into how the human brain is altered by the biological process of pregnancy.
- The primary aim of the project is to chart contingent gestational alterations in regional neural grey matter volumes, structural and functional connectivity and neural metabolites.
- Second, I will examine whether these neural changes are related to specific gestational endocrine alterations and to indices of maternal functioning and maternal responsiveness.
The final part of the project will focus on postpartum depression (PPD), a highly prevalent and serious condition that can have detrimental consequences for both the mother and child if left unrecognized or untreated.
- Therefore, the third section of the project aims to identify pre-gestation biomarkers that signal a predisposition for PPD and to define the trajectory of biological gestational changes that precede the emergence of PPD symptoms.
The proposed project will provide a framework to explore this uncharted territory and take the first steps to map the impact of pregnancy and pregnancy-related hormone surges on the human brain.


Wetenschappelijk artikel

  • O Vilarroya, S Carmona, E. Barba-Muller, D Garcia-Garcia, M Picado, JC Soliva, C Pozzobon, EA Crone, M Desco, F Lucco, A Tobena, E. Hoekzema, A Ballesteros(2017): Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure Nature Neuroscience pp. 287 - 296






Dr. E.A. Hoekzema

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen, Ontwikkelings- en Onderwijspsychologie


Dr. E.A. Hoekzema


01/03/2015 tot 28/02/2019