Mari Videman

New information on how fetal exposure to antiepileptic medication and antidepressants affect the newborn brain

The research group of project leader Mari Videman has a strong desire to understand the development of the infant brain. Their ambition is to reveal how fetal exposure to medication affects the developing brain and the child’s subsequent development.

The research group uses methods of clinical neurophysiology, child neurology, psychiatry, psychology, and mathematics, to examine the effects of antiepileptic medication and antidepressants on the function of the infant brain.

The AED (AntiEpileptic Drug) project has found that the electrical activity of newborn brain exposed to antiepileptic medication differs from the brain activity of control children. Furthermore, the neurocognitive development of the children is affected by the exposure to antiepileptic medication. The developmental differences can be detected already in infancy.

-Our findings are in line with the current guidelines of the treatment of epilepsy during pregnancy. The antiepileptic medication is important for the health of both the mother and the baby, but the safety of the medication should be considered carefully when planning pregnancy, Videman explains.

The research group is part of the international EURAP register study (International Registry of Antiepileptic Drugs and Pregnancy), which involves 42 countries and more than 700 partners.

The NCEP, Neurocognitive Extension Protocol, is a follow-up study assessing the long-term neurocognitive effects of the fetal exposure to antiepileptic medication by the age of six to seven years.

The RaMaVa research project enlightens the effects of fetal exposure to SRI (Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) medication. The research group has detected that the electrical brain activity of the newborns exposed to antidepressants differ from the brain activity of the unexposed newborns. The effects were mild, and their importance to the subsequent development is still unknown.

– Our findings confirm the current view of the treatment of depression during pregnancy and have been included in the Current Care recommendations. The treatment of depression during pregnancy is important for the health of both the mother and the baby. During pregnancy, therapy and other non-medicinal treatments take precedence, but in severe cases of depression, medication may be necessary.

The findings of the research group increase information on the factors affecting the development and function of the infant brain. In addition, the objective of the research group is to develop new, non-invasive, methods to predict developmental challenges already during the neonatal period or in infancy, and to enable early support to those who require it.

Ongoing follow-up studies

Follow-up studies examine whether the changes to the electrical activity of the brain detected during the neonatal period are related to subsequent particularities in learning abilities or development. One of the goals is to find biological markers related to neurocognitive development by measuring the electrical activity of the brain at the age of six years.

– We believe that in the future, the research data will help to select safer medications for women with epilepsy or depression planning a pregnancy. The studies may reveal mechanisms underlying learning processes, and assist to develop assessment methods to be used as a diagnostics tool to detect children in risk for learning difficulties.

The Videman research group is part of the international BaBa (BAby Brain Activity) research centre at Helsinki University Hospital. The group cooperates closely with the Aalto University engineering sciences and the Department of Psychology at the University of Tampere. The group has been active since 2010.

Contact details

Mari Videman
New Children’s Hospital, Helsinki University Hospital