New research has revealed the physical root of depression, according to a study published in the journal Brain.
The study, which was carried out by the University of Warwick in collaboration with Fudan University in China, shows that depression affects the brain’s lateral orbitofrontal cortex – which is implicated in non-reward functions – so that sufferers of the disease feel a sense of loss and disappointment associated with not receiving rewards.
Depression is also associated with reduced connectivity between the reward brain area in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and memory systems in the brain, which could explain why sufferers have a reduced focus on happy memories.
Professor Jianfeng Feng, the study’s lead author, said: ‘More than one in ten people in their life time suffer from depression, a disease which is so common in modern society that we can even find the remains of Prozac in the tap water in London.’
‘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.’
Major depression is now thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide, and a major contributor to both suicide and – surprising to many – ischaemic heart disease. Anything that further increases our understanding of this common and debilitating condition is always welcome, and if it opens up a new avenue of treatment then even better.
This Chinese-based study of over 1,000 people used high-resolution MRI scans to analyse the parts of the brain affected by depression and found that these areas appear to have different functional connectivity in people with depression. This is postulated to trigger low self-esteem and a reduced focus on happy memories, key triggers in depressive illness.
Potentially exciting as this is regarding new treatments that could aim to impact on these areas of the brain the study is still relatively small in number, further studies are needed to replicate its findings and any potential new treatment on the back of this will be many years away. However, this does warrant serious research and adds another potential line of attack against a health problem that still has much to be discovered.’