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Scientists detected changes in white matter of the brain of depression patients

Posted July 27, 2017

Depression. Image via Pixabay

Mental health situation in the world is really not great. Many people suffer from one or another problem, most wide-spread condition being depression. However, despite how common this problem is, many people still believe it is somewhat not real. A new study from University of Edinburgh has shown that depression is in fact physical in its consequences – it changes brain structure.

Depression is usually seen as being in a permanently bad mood, seeing no hope and generally lacking interest in your surroundings. Because these symptoms are the most visible, some believe that depression is somewhat easily fixable condition. Now scientists decided to perform a series of brain scans to see how depression actually affects the structure of the brain. Surprisingly, changes are indeed evident – alterations were found in parts of the brain known as white matter. It contains fibres, which are used for communication between separate parts of the brain.

White matter is known to be crucial for emotion processing and thinking skills, it is an essential part of brain’s wiring system. Obviously, these changes could mean that depression has some actual physiological causes, such as weak connections in the brain. While this study is very new, scientists do believe that findings are representative, because research included more than 3000 people.

Scientists used a method called diffusion tensor imaging to map the structure of white matter of 3461 people. This makes this study the largest of its kind and in that regard respectably robust. It means that this study could have further implications in diagnostics and treatment. Scientists noticed that white matter integrity was reduced in people who reported symptoms indicative of depression. Meantime people who did not report similar symptoms did not show any evidence of reduced quality of white matter.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, but some people still doubt it is real. Image credit: Irais Esparza via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. A lot of people cannot bring themselves to work or do anything really because of depression and thus retract from society. This calls for quicker solutions and more research. Dr Heather Whalley, one of the authors of the study, said: “here is an urgent need to provide treatment for depression and an improved understanding of its mechanisms will give us a better chance of developing new and more effective methods of treatment”.

So what the next step could be? Interestingly, scientists will be looking at healthy brain and not to the one that revealed changes in white matter. They want to see how brain protects itself from depression, if there is any mechanism that is just stronger than condition. Understanding causality – what causes what – is the key to the next step of the research process.


Source: University of Edinburgh 

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