Mothers and clinicians face a complicated question when treating postpartum depression: does the potential therapeutic effect of prescribed antidepressants outweigh the risks of neonatal antidepressant exposure? Aarthi’s research investigates how different types of maternal antidepressant exposure affect the neurobiology of mothers and the male and female offspring in adulthood.

Research Description

Postpartum depression affects approximately 15% of women and has a detrimental effect on the mother-infant dyad. Not only does postpartum depression have negative consequences on the mother's health, it is also a form of early life adversity for the developing child. The effects of untreated postpartum depression are serious, but it is unclear how to approach treating postpartum depression as prescribed antidepressants can enter breast milk and directly affect the infant. Unfortunately, the long term effects of neonatal antidepressant exposure remain unclear. Further, it is unknown whether alternative antidepressants (such as exercise) are efficacious at this time. To this end, my research uses a rat model of postpartum stress to compare the effects of fluoxetine (Prozac) and exercise on maternal behaviour and the maternal brain. Also, my research investigates how maternal antidepressant exposure affects anxiety-like behaviour and the brain of male and female offspring in adulthood.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Being a public scholar means viewing research with the lens of how this academic work can improve global well-being. There is incredible scientific research being conducted all over the world, but it is not always obvious to the public why all of this research is exciting and important. Public Scholars focus on connecting research at the university level and the detailed knowledge we are gaining with those outside of academia in order to benefit everyone, academics and non-academics alike.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

PSI can add flexibility to the PhD experience. The path of PhD to postdoctoral fellowship to professorship is rigorous and well-established, but for graduate students opting to pursue non-academia careers, PSI represents an opportunity for students with similar goals to connect and share ideas about how to diversify career opportunities outside of university. The PSI also supports non-traditional paths and helps students recognize how the skills acquired during the PhD are transferable to serving multiple domains of public good.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

I would love to become involved with health and science policy or scientific communication for the public. I enjoy writing and sharing my enthusiasm for science with others, so my ideal career would allow me to combine my knowledge of the technical side of neuroscience with public engagement and benefit.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

I am interested in translating basic neuroscience research to public policy. My ultimate goal is to build upon my dissertation research which investigates the effects of postpartum antidepressant use on the maternal brain and offspring outcome and synthesize a set of policy recommendations for how we can improve the current state of mental health research, particularly for mothers.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

I hope my work makes a contribution to the public good by highlighting how maternal mental health is a important yet under-recognized component to mental health awareness and ultimately results in better support and information for mothers facing mental health concerns.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

During my undergraduate studies at The Ohio State University, I worked in different biology labs and completed an honors thesis in a behavioural neuroscience lab. I enjoyed how being in a lab allowed me to ask questions and directly pursue the answers to those questions. I knew that a graduate degree would be an excellent opportunity to further delve into those scientific questions and explore neuroscience in further detail.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

The UBC Program in Neuroscience is one of best research programs and produces some of the most fascinating research in the world. Also, my supervisor, Dr. Liisa Galea, is a Distinguished University Scholar of UBC and is widely renowned for her research in the neuroscience of sex differences and the maternal brain. Working with her as well as the opportunity to be a part of such a fantastic program made attending UBC an easy decision.


Being a public scholar means viewing research with the lens of how this academic work can improve global well-being".