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Brain Networks for Emotions Disrupted In Depression

Brain Networks for Emotions Disrupted In Depression

Emerging research has discovered regions of the brain that normally work together to process emotion become detached in people who experience multiple episodes of depression.

Neuroscientists believe the findings may help identify which patients will benefit from long-term antidepressant treatment to prevent the recurrence of depressive episodes.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

“Half of people who have a first depressive episode will go on to have another within two years,” said Dr. Scott Langenecker, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at University of Illinois.

Prior research has suggested that disruptions in the brain networks that are simultaneously active during problem-solving and emotional processing are common among mental illnesses, including depression.

However, while a disruption of neural connection can be problematic, “hyperconnectivity,” or too much connection, within the “resting network,” or areas active during rest and self-reflection, has also been linked to depression.

“If we can identify different network connectivity patterns that are associated with depression, then we may be able to determine which are risk factors for poorer outcomes down the line, such as having multiple episodes, and we can keep those patients on preventive or maintenance medication,” Langenecker explained.

“We can also start to see what medications work best for people with different connectivity patterns, to develop more personalized treatment plans.”

In previous research, Langenecker found that the emotional and cognitive brain networks were hyperconnected in young adults who had depression. Areas of the brain related to rumination — thinking about the same thing over and over again — which is a known risk factor for depression, were also overly connected in adolescents who had experienced depression.

In the new study, Langenecker said he and his coworkers wanted to see if different patterns of network disruption would show up in young adults who had experienced only one episode of depression versus several episodes.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to scan the brains of 77 young adults (average age: 21.) Seventeen of the participants were experiencing major depression at the time of the scan, while 34 were currently well.

Of these 51 patients, 36 had experienced at least one episode of depression in the past, and these individuals were compared to 26 participants who had never experienced a major depressive episode. None were taking psychiatric medication at the time they were scanned.

All fMRI scans were done in a resting state to show which areas of the brain are most synchronously active as one relaxes and lets the mind wander.

Investigators found that the amygdala, a region involved in detecting emotion, is decoupled from the emotional network in people who have had multiple episodes of depression. Langenecker believes this may cause emotional-information processing to be less accurate, and could explain “negative processing-bias” in which depression sufferers perceive even neutral information as negative.

The researchers also saw that participants who had had at least one prior depressive episode — whether or not they were depressed at the time of the scan — exhibited increased connectivity between the resting and cognitive networks.

“This may be an adaptation the brain makes to help regulate emotional biases or rumination,” Langenecker said.

The study opens new avenues that may improve treatment and management of depression.

“Since this study provides just a snapshot of the brain at one point in time, longer-term studies are needed, to determine whether the patterns we saw may be predictive of a future of multiple episodes for some patients and might help us identify who should have maintenance treatments and targets for new preventive treatments.”

Source: University of Illinois, Chicago
 
Abstract of human brain connections photo by shutterstock.

Brain Networks for Emotions Disrupted In Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). Brain Networks for Emotions Disrupted In Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/01/21/brain-networks-for-emotions-interrupted-during-depression/97963.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Jan 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Jan 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.