Brain scans could head off depression
A simple brain scan could identify children at risk of suffering from depression later in life, according to a new study. If implemented, the early warning test could allow doctors to carry out treatment prior to the first instance of depression, making it less likely that the patient will suffer further bouts.
The study was conductedby an international team of researchers, and focused on a samplegroup of 27 children between the ages of 8 – 14 who were believedto be at a higher risk of suffering from depression owing to a familyhistory with the disease. Brain scans carried out on this group werethen compared to those of 16 children who had no family history ofdepression, in an attempt to isolate potential abnormalities.
Prior research in thefield had isolated unusual brain activity in patients who sufferedfrom the disease. The work highlighted increased activity between thesubgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) and theamygdala. However, in this instance the researchers wereunable to determine whether these abnormalities were the cause or theresult of an instance of depression.
The new study made useof a process known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)to monitor a patient's blood flow to certain regions ofthe brain. This allowed the researchers to measure localized brainactivity, and in so doing isolate synchronization patternshighlighting which regions of the brain were communicating with eachother while the patient was at rest.
For children believedto be at a heightened risk of depression, the scientists observed anumber of distinct synchronization patterns. One of the key findingshighlighted a strong connection between the sgACC and the default mode network.
The unusual brainactivity exhibited by the high-risk children bore many similaritiesto that of adults suffering from the disease, leading the researchersto conclude that the abnormalities are not the result of the disease,but may instead be contributing to its onset.
The next step for theteam will be to continue monitoring the brain activity of thechildren in order to determine whether early treatment can preventfuture episodes of depression.