The maternal reward system in postpartum depression

  • Caitlin Post
  • Benedetta LeunerEmail author
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Neurobiology of Maternal Mental Illness


The experience of motherhood is most often emotionally positive and rewarding, but for many new mothers suffering from postpartum depression (PPD), this is not the case. Preclinical and clinical research has sought to uncover brain changes underlying PPD in order to gain a better understanding of how this disorder develops. This review focuses on the mesolimbic dopamine system, particularly the ventral tegmental area-nucleus accumbens pathway which has been implicated in the regulation of critical functions disrupted in PPD including mood, motivation, and mothering. Specifically, we discuss normative changes in the mesolimbic system during motherhood in both rodents and humans and how these are impacted in PPD. We also consider modulation of mesolimbic dopamine by the hypothalamic neuropeptide oxytocin and how oxytocin-dopamine interactions regulate mood and mothering during the postpartum period. In addition to providing an overview of reward mechanisms in PPD, our goal is to highlight open questions which warrant further research.


Depression Dopamine Maternal Mesolimbic Nucleus accumbens Oxytocin Postpartum Pregnancy Striatum 



This work was funded by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R21HD083791).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Department of NeuroscienceThe Ohio State University Wexner Medical CenterColumbusUSA

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