Young Development Economists Webinar Series (YoDEV) – Pietro Biroli (University of Zurich), April 8th at 2:30 p.m. (CET)

Pietro Biroli (University of Zurich)  on Maternal Depression and Child Development: Evidence from a Psychotherapy RCT and Stress Biomarkers from Hair” (with Victoria Baranov, Allison Frost, Ashley Hagaman, Julian G. Simmons, Muhammad S. Manzoor, Sonia Bhalotra, Atif Rahman, Siham Sikander and Joanna Maselko), jointly organised by the Department of Economics and Management of Università di Pavia, Università degli Studi di Milano – Bicocca e Centro Studi Luca d’Agliano. The webinar will be held on Thursday, 8th April 2021 at 2:30 p.m. (CET) via Zoom. Click here in order to connect. For further information on the Young Development Economists Webinars, you can visit our website.


Introduction: Disruptions in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis are thought to be key neuroendocrine mechanisms involved in psychopathology and may have intergenerational impacts.

Objective: We examine the impact of a perinatal psychosocial intervention on mother-child HPA axis activity assessed using hair-derived cortisol, cortisone, and DHEA.

Methods: Hair samples were collected from mother-child dyads at one year postpartum from a subsample of prenatally depressed women randomized to a cognitive-behavioral intervention (n=35 dyads) or to enhanced usual care (n=37 dyads), and from a comparison sample of women who screened negative for depression in pregnancy (n=35 dyads).

Results: The intervention reduced maternal cortisol levels by approximately 38 percent (p=0.01) and maternal cortisone levels by 45 percent (p<0.01). Maternal DHEA levels were higher among women in the intervention group compared to the EUC group, an increase of approximately 29 percent (p=0.02). Intergenerational intervention effects show increased DHEA levels in infants by approximately 43% (p=0.03). Infant cortisol and cortisone did not differ across groups.

Conclusions: This study provides evidence for a causal link between treatment of maternal depression and HPA axis activity in mothers and children. Utilizing hair-derived biomarkers of HPA-axis activity is a potentially useful clinical indicator of intervention impacts on the neuroendocrine system.