Image courtesy of the University of Warwick
Researchers have finally identified which area of the brain is most affected by depression thanks to new technology.
An article on the study, which is forthcoming in Brain magazine, details the findings of Professor Edmund Rolls and Professor Jianfeng Feng of the University of Warwick and Fudan University, respectively. Using high precision MRI to analyze the neural connections between different areas of the brain in 1,000 Chinese citizens, their teams were able to conclude that the medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex were the most affected by depression.
The lateral orbitofrontal cortex becomes more active in situations where sufferers do not receive rewards. Scientists posit that this could explain why those who suffer from depression often experience low self-esteem and a general sense of sadness.
The reduced connectivity scientists found between the medial orbitofrontal cortex (which contains brain regions associated with reward) and areas associated with memory in the brain could also explain why patients focus less on happy memories.
These findings could revolutionize the way doctors treat depression and allow them to treat its root cause more effectively—a more prevalent issue than ever. As Professor Jianfeng Feng stated in a press release for Science Daily, “More than one in ten people in their lifetime suffer from depression, a disease which is so common in modern society…[that] we can even find the remains of Prozac (a drug used to treat depression) in the tap water in London.”
Previously, researchers knew that during depression, the brain released less dopamine (a chemical largely involved in the reward pathway). However, this new finding that areas of non-reward (or areas that become more active with a lack of reward) are involved as well could shift the way doctors think about the condition and its treatment.