UC Davis Neurologist Develops Drug For Postpartum Depression

A University of California, Davis neurologist is being credited with development of a newly approved drug which is reportedly provides relief for women who suffer from postpartum depression.

Dr. Michael Rogawski is professor of neurology and pharmacology and a member of the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience. He also teaches in the UC Davis School of Medicine and is on the active medical staff of UC Davis Health. Rogawski and his team are responsible for inventing Zulresso, which is also called Brexanolone. It is the first drug approved by the FDA for postpartum depression, which affects an estimated one in nine women who give birth in the United States.

"Up until the development of Brexanolone, there was no specific treatment for postpartum depression. I am extremely pleased that our research has led to a rapidly acting treatment for this all-too-common condition," said Rogawski.

 The drug has a naturally occurring steroid called allopregnanolone which is found in the female sex hormone progesterone. Rogawski said he became interested in developing a treatment for postpartum depression with allopregnanolone after other laboratory studies showed it had antidepressant possibilities.

"Blood levels of progesterone, and therefore allopregnanolone, rise dramatically as pregnancy progresses, but begin to decrease in late pregnancy and then fall precipitously during the day or two after giving birth," said Rogawski. "I reasoned that allopregnanolone levels might also fall and I hypothesized that the withdrawal of this endogenous antidepressant substance could trigger depression for some women. This led to the discovery of allopregnanolone as a treatment for postpartum depression."

Postpartum depression symptoms include loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, reduced coordination, lack of concentration, loss of energy, and low self-esteem. In developed countries, suicide is the leading cause of death among women who have very recently given birth, according to the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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