Experimental studies indicate that perinatal light exposure has enduring effects on affective behaviors in rodents; however, insufficient research has explored this hypothesis in humans. We examined photoperiod (i.e., day length) metrics during maternal pregnancy in relation to lifetime depression in the longitudinal Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and NHS II. 160,723 participants reported birth date and birth state (used to derive daily photoperiod based on published mathematical equations), and clinician-diagnosed depression and antidepressant use throughout adulthood. Logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (OR) (and 95% confidence intervals [CI]) for depression (defined as clinician diagnosis and antidepressant use) across quintiles of two exposures during maternal pregnancy: 1) total photoperiod (total number of daylight hours) and 2) differences between minimum/maximum photoperiod; each trimester of pregnancy was examined separately. Total photoperiod during maternal pregnancy was not associated with depression overall or by trimester of pregnancy. However, larger differences between minimum/maximum photoperiod during maternal pregnancy were related to lower odds of depression (multivariable [MV]-adjusted OR: 0.86, 95% CI: 0.83, 0.90 comparing extreme quintiles of exposure; p-trend<0.0001); this association appeared specific to the second trimester of pregnancy (MV-adjusted p-trends = 0.03, <0.0001, and 0.3 across the three trimesters, respectively). In addition, birth at higher latitude (where larger differences in minimum/maximum photoperiod exist) was associated with a significant reduction in the lifetime risk of depression. These findings are consistent with an emerging hypothesis in which perinatal light exposure may influence risk of depression, and they might be understood through the conceptual framework of adaptive developmental plasticity.
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