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New study finds brain white matter alterations in children with depression

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A 17-year neuroimaging study of people diagnosed with depression in childhood revealed differences in white matter in the dorsal cingulum bundle region of the brain compared to people without depression of the same age. The emergence of these differences was first detected in adolescence. The study was published in Depression and anxiety.

Depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), as it is officially called, is one of the most common major mental disorders and one of the leading causes of disability. Symptoms include decreased interest or pleasure in activities most of the day, changes in appetite leading to weight loss or gain, loss of energy or increased fatigue, depressed mood most of the day, day, almost every day, difficulty thinking, concentrating and making decisions, etc. . .

Although much research has been conducted on the psychological and psychiatric aspects of depression, recent studies have focused on structural changes in brain white matter fibers in people with depression, particularly in the pathways that connect regions involved in responding to and processing emotionally evocative experiences and those involved in regulating such experiences.

Some findings indicate that disturbances in the brain region known as the cingulum tract occur during depression and that this may affect communication between the subcortical and cortical limbic regions of the brain. While these findings were for adults, it is less clear whether these brain white matter disturbances are also present in children.

We now know that depression can strike as early as the preschool years, but it is unclear whether the neural and psychological factors associated with depression are the same for children who develop depression early versus those who develop it later. adolescence or adulthood. Thus, we were interested in understanding whether the neural differences associated with depression are the same or different for people who develop depression in childhood compared to later in life,” the author explained. study. Deanna M. BarchGregory B. Couch professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington and editor of Biological Psychiatry: Global Open Science.

To determine whether a lifetime history of major depression was associated with brain white matter disruption, Barch and colleagues analyzed some of the data from the Preschool Depression Study, a 17-year longitudinal study involving a total of 306 children and their primary caregivers conducted at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Data from 131 of these children were examined in this study.

The children were recruited to take part in the study when they were between the ages of 3 and 5, and each was examined at several points in their life. The latest waves of examination, the waves from which most of the data for the current study come, were conducted when the children were between 13 and 19 years old and between 15 and 21 years old. At ages 7 to 12, the children were first asked to take part in the brain imaging part of the study, which also involved 42 other healthy children.

Child diagnoses were made through up to 10 in-person assessment sessions with participants and their primary caregivers. Children were first assessed between ages 3 and 5, and the most recent assessment was between ages 15 and 21. Assessments used included the Preschool Psychiatric Assessment (PAPA), Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment (CAPA), Kiddle Calendar for Affective Disorders, and others, depending on the age of the children at the time of each assessment. Based on this, the researchers created a cumulative depression score and an indicator of the current severity of depression. Participants also underwent five magnetic resonance imaging sessions at different times in their lives.

For analysis, children were divided into three groups: 1) healthy controls, with no lifetime history of major depression, 2) lifetime history of major depression with or without additional diagnoses, and 3) young people with a lifetime history of a disorder other than a major one. • depression (mainly anxiety). Groups were matched on age, sex, race, relative movement estimates, and income-need ratios.

The results showed a decrease in fractional anisotropy and axial diffusivity in the dorsal cingulum bundle region of the brain in children with major depression. Low values ​​of these indicators indicate poor white matter integrity of the brain and both were associated with cumulative and current severity of depression. Increased radial diffusivity of the same brain region was also found to be associated with both indicators of depression. These same types of differences were detected in the ventral cingulum region of the brain, but they were only associated with greater cumulative severity of depression.

“This is further evidence that depression beginning in early childhood is associated with some of the same types of brain differences as depression that occurs later in life, providing more evidence for the continuity of depression throughout of life,” Barch told PsyPost.

“We were somewhat surprised not to see more evidence for differences in the uncinate tract given all the evidence for amygdala disturbances in depression,” she added. “It makes me wonder if it’s more associated with depression occurring later in life or maybe it comes with an even longer history of depression.”

The study makes an important contribution to knowledge about changes in brain structure related to major depression. However, it must be taken into account that the researchers did not have assessments of white matter integrity from early childhood and therefore it is not known whether the changes observed in the children’s brains preceded the onset of depression or have developed as part of it. The neurobiological sources of these changes also remain unknown.

“We don’t know exactly when these differences in white matter occur – so it would be important in future studies to have measurements before children develop depression and then again afterwards,” Barch explained. “In this way, we can determine whether brain differences such as changes in white matter may contribute to the risk of depression rather than being a consequence of depression.”

The study,White matter alterations associated with lifetime and current depression in adolescents: evidence for cingulum disturbanceswas written by Deanna M. Barch, Xiao Hua, Sridhar Kandala, Michael P. Harms, Ashley Sanders, Rebecca Brady, Rebecca Tillman, and Joan L. Luby.