Study shows brain structure changes during depression

Researchers found structural differences in the cerebral cortex during depression may normalize with medication for the condition.
By Amy Wallace  |  March 7, 2017 at 10:36 AM
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March 7 (UPI) -- Doctors at Children's Hospital Los Angeles uncovered changes that occur in the brain in patients with depression, and say they can be reversed with treatment.

The study was done as a randomized, controlled trial and found structural changes in the cerebral cortex of the brain during medication treatment for depression showing anatomical neuroplasticity of the brain.

"Our findings suggest that thickening of the cerebral cortex is a compensatory, neuroplastic response that helps to reduce the severity of depressive symptoms," Dr. Bradley S. Peterson, a researcher at The Saban Research Institute, said in a press release.

"Patients off medication have a thickened cortex, and the thicker it is, the fewer the symptoms they have. Treatment with medication then reduces the severity of symptoms, which in turn reduces the need for biological compensation in the brain -- so that their cortex becomes thinner, reacting thickness values similar to those in healthy volunteers."

Researchers studied anatomical brain scans of 41 patients with chronic depression at the start of the study and again at the 10-week mark. Thirty-nine healthy participants were scanned only once.

Participants received the depression drug duloxetine, a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, or a placebo. Patients who received duloxetine showed significant improvement of depression symptoms compared to patients on a placebo.

Patients receiving medication also showed a decline in cortical thickness to what was found in healthy participants, but patients on the placebo showed a slight thickening of the cortex.

"Although this study was conducted in adults, the methodology developed -- pairing a randomized controlled trial with MRI scanning -- can be applied to many other populations in both children and adults," Ravi Bansal of The Saban Institute, said in a press release. "Also, our observations of neuroplasticity suggest new biological targets for treatment of persons with neuropsychiatric disorders."

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

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