Currently, clinical depression is treated in pretty much the same way, whether the patient has experienced it for a short time or over many years. According to Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), however, that may not be the right way to go, as a new study indicates that long-term depression physically alters the brain.

In the study, positron emission tomography (PET) was used to image the brains of 25 people with more than 10 years of depression, 25 with less than 10 years of the condition, and a control group of 30 people with no depression. All of the people in the first two groups were either not taking any medication, or had been on a stable dose of medication for at least four weeks before being scanned.

As compared to people with less than 10 years of untreated depression, it was found that people with more than 10 years of untreated depression had about 30 percent higher levels of translocator protein (TSPO), a biomarker of brain inflammation produced by the brain's immune cells.

"Greater inflammation in the brain is a common response with degenerative brain diseases as they progress, such as with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease," says lead scientist Dr. Jeff Meyer.

Although depression is not considered degenerative, Meyer believes his findings indicate that as is the case with diseases like Alzheimer's, depression progresses through different stages that require different treatments. He is now exploring the use of anti-inflammatory drugs as a treatment for later-stage major depressive disorder.

A paper on the research was published this week in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

Source: CAMH