Study Probes Neural Correlates of Depressive Symptoms

A new study finds that depression affects a part of the brain that causes sufferers of the disease to feel a sense of loss and disappointment associated with not receiving rewards.

Specifically, investigators from the University of Warwick, U.K., and Fudan University in China found that depression affects the part of the brain implicated in non-reward, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex.

This area of the brain, which becomes active when rewards are not received, is also connected with the part of the brain which is involved in one’s sense of self.

Depression is also associated with reduced connectivity between the reward brain area in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and memory systems in the brain. Experts believe this could explain why people with depression have trouble concentrating on happy memories.

The study was carried out by Professor Edmund Rolls from Warwick, Professor Jianfeng Feng from Warwick and Fudan University in Shanghai, Dr. Wei Cheng from Fudan University, and by other centers in China.

For the study, almost 1,000 people in China had their brains scanned using high precision MRI. The imaging analyzed the connections between the medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex, the different parts of the human brain affected by depression.

“More than one in 10 people in their lifetime suffer from depression, a disease which is so common in modern society and we can even find the remains of Prozac (a depression drug) in the tap water in London,” said Feng.

“Our finding, with the combination of big data we collected around the world and our novel methods, enables us to locate the roots of depression which should open up new avenues for better therapeutic treatments in the near future for this horrible disease.”

Professor Edmund Rolls looks forward to the new treatments the research could lead to.

“The new findings on how depression is related to different functional connectivities of the orbitofrontal cortex have implications for treatments in the light of a recent non-reward attractor theory of depression,” he said.

The research is published in the journal Brain.

Source: University of Warwick