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Unstrange Phenomena

26 March 2009

Brain: Relationship of Thinning of Brain's Cortex Linked to Depression

"Images of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, as viewed from the side. The colors represent the differences in cortical thickness between the high-risk group, which has a family history of depression, and the low-risk group, which has no known risk. Blue and purple represent the thinning of the cortex, with purple regions having the greatest thinning. Green areas show no significant differences between the two groups."

From Denny: If you missed it yesterday, like I did because of scheduled Blogger outages and general slow down of the internet in the Hurricane Katrina zone, here's a disturbing study. Fortunately, the study was only done on 131 people, hardly a large sampling of the population.

I'm always wary of studies these days as often they are done on too small a group for too short a time and the biggest pet peeve: often paid for by drug companies with the most to gain if researchers give them the results they desire.

It would appear the scientists have drawn no hard conclusions yet - just found some startling data. They have a long way to go before they can apply this new data across the board in the general population that determines "x" number of people will be predicted to suffer from depression. It is an interesting finding though, one worthy of a lot more serious study if only to help those already suffering from depression.

Here are a few excerpts. For the full article at the New York Times click on the title link.

"Scientists who have been following families with a history of depression have found structural differences in family members’ brains — specifically, a significant thinning of the right cortex, the brain’s outermost surface. The thinning may be a trait or a marker of vulnerability to depression, the researchers suggested.

The scientists’ brain imaging study found the thinning in descendants of depressed parents and grandparents, whether or not the individuals themselves had ever suffered a depressive episode or an anxiety disorder, researchers said...

The cerebral cortex is the region of the brain centrally involved in reasoning, planning and mood, and thinning of the cortex may affect an individual’s ability to pay attention to and interpret social and emotional cues, scientists suggested.

'If you have thinning in this portion of the brain, it interferes with the processing of emotional stimuli,' Dr. Peterson said. 'We think that’s what makes them vulnerable to developing anxiety and depression — it essentially isolates them in an emotional world.'

While thinning in the right hemisphere was not associated with actual depression, additional thinning in the same region of the left hemisphere was, and 'seems to tip you over from having a vulnerability to depression to actually developing symptoms,' Dr. Peterson said."

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