1. Study suggests yoga may help reduce depression symptoms

    August 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association (APA) press release:

    People who suffer from depression may want to look to yoga as a complement to traditional therapies as the practice appears to lessen symptoms of the disorder, according to studies presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

    “Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing,” said Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who chaired a session highlighting research on yoga and depression. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”

    Hopkins’ research focused on the acceptability and antidepressant effects of hatha yoga, the branch of yoga that emphasizes physical exercises, along with meditative and breathing exercises, to enhance well-being. In the study, 23 male veterans participated in twice-weekly yoga classes for eight weeks. On a 1-10 scale, the average enjoyment rating for the yoga classes for these veterans was 9.4. All participants said they would recommend the program to other veterans. More importantly, participants with elevated depression scores before the yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms after the eight weeks.

    Another, more specific, version of hatha yoga commonly practiced in the West is Bikram yoga, also known as heated yoga. Sarah Shallit, MA, of Alliant University in San Francisco investigated Bikram yoga in 52 women, age 25-45. Just more than half were assigned to participate in twice-weekly classes for eight weeks. The rest were told they were wait-listed and used as a control condition. All participants were tested for depression levels at the beginning of the study, as well as at weeks three, six and nine. Shallit and her co-author Hopkins found that eight weeks of Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared with the control group.

    In the same session, Maren Nyer, PhD, and Maya Nauphal, BA, of Massachusetts General Hospital, presented data from a pilot study of 29 adults that also showed eight weeks of at least twice-weekly Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression and improved other secondary measures including quality of life, optimism, and cognitive and physical functioning.

    “The more the participants attended yoga classes, the lower their depressive symptoms at the end of the study,” said Nyer, who currently has funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to conduct a randomized controlled trial of Bikram yoga for individuals with depression.

    Elsewhere at the meeting, Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands presented data from two studies on the potential for yoga to address chronic and/or treatment-resistant depression. In the first study, 12 patients who had experienced depression for an average of 11 years participated in nine weekly yoga sessions of approximately 2.5 hours each. The researchers measured participants’ levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry before the yoga sessions, directly after the nine weeks and four months later. Scores for depression, anxiety and stress decreased throughout the program, a benefit that persisted four months after the training. Rumination and worry did not change immediately after the treatment, but at follow up rumination and worry were decreased for the participants.

    In another study, involving 74 mildly depressed university students, Vollbehr and her colleagues compared yoga to a relaxation technique. Individuals received 30 minutes of live instruction on either yoga or relaxation and were asked to perform the same exercise at home for eight days using a 15-minute instructional video. While results taken immediately after the treatment showed yoga and relaxation were equally effective at reducing symptoms, two months later, the participants in the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety and stress than the relaxation group.

    “These studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression,” said Vollbehr.

    The concept of yoga as complementary or alternative mental health treatment is so promising that the U.S. military is investigating the creation of its own treatment programs. Jacob Hyde, PsyD, of the University of Denver, gave a presentation outlining a standardized, six-week yoga treatment for U.S. military veterans enrolled in behavioral health services at the university-run clinic and could be expanded for use by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Hopkins noted that the research on yoga as a treatment for depression is still preliminary. “At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,” she said. “Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential.”


  2. High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

    August 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon Health & Science University press release:

    A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact on offspring behavior. The new study links an unhealthy diet during pregnancy to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression in children.

    “Given the high level of dietary fat consumption and maternal obesity in developed nations, these findings have important implications for the mental health of future generations,” the researchers report.

    The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.

    The study, led by Elinor Sullivan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, tested the effect of a maternal high-fat diet on nonhuman primates, tightly controlling their diet in a way that would be impossible in a human population. The study revealed behavioral changes in the offspring associated with impaired development of the central serotonin system in the brain. Further, it showed that introducing a healthy diet to the offspring at an early age failed to reverse the effect.

    Previous observational studies in people correlated maternal obesity with a range of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The new research demonstrates for the first time that a high-fat diet, increasingly common in the developed world, caused long-lasting mental health ramifications for the offspring of non-human primates.

    In the United States, 64 percent of women of reproductive age are overweight and 35 percent are obese. The new study suggests that the U.S. obesity epidemic may be imposing transgenerational effects.

    “It’s not about blaming the mother,” said Sullivan, senior author on the study. “It’s about educating pregnant women about the potential risks of a high-fat diet in pregnancy and empowering them and their families to make healthy choices by providing support. We also need to craft public policies that promote healthy lifestyles and diets.”

    Researchers grouped a total of 65 female Japanese macaques into two groups, one given a high-fat diet and one a control diet during pregnancy. They subsequently measured and compared anxiety-like behavior among 135 offspring and found that both males and females exposed to a high-fat diet during pregnancy exhibited greater incidence of anxiety compared with those in the control group. The scientists also examined physiological differences between the two groups, finding that exposure to a high-fat diet during gestation and early in development impaired the development of neurons containing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s critical in developing brains.

    The new findings suggest that diet is at least as important as genetic predisposition to neurodevelopmental disorders such as anxiety or depression, said an OHSU pediatric psychiatrist who was not involved in the research.

    “I think it’s quite dramatic,” said Joel Nigg, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine. “A lot of people are going to be astonished to see that the maternal diet has this big of an effect on the behavior of the offspring. We’ve always looked at the link between obesity and physical diseases like heart disease, but this is really the clearest demonstration that it’s also affecting the brain.”

    Sullivan and research assistant and first author Jacqueline Thompson said they believe the findings provide evidence that mobilizing public resources to provide healthy food and pre- and post-natal care to families of all socioeconomic classes could reduce mental health disorders in future generations.

    “My hope is that increased public awareness about the origins of neuropsychiatric disorders can improve our identification and management of these conditions, both at an individual and societal level,” Thompson said.


  3. Study suggests one in three cases of dementia preventable

    August 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Southern California – Health Sciences press release:

    Managing lifestyle factors such as hearing loss, smoking, hypertension and depression could prevent one-third of the world’s dementia cases, according to a report by the first Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care. Presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017 and published in The Lancet, the report also highlights the beneficial effects of nonpharmacologic interventions such as social contact and exercise for people with dementia.

    “There’s been a great deal of focus on developing medicines to prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease,” says commission member and AAIC presenter Lon Schneider, MD, professor of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “But we can’t lose sight of the real major advances we’ve already made in treating dementia, including preventive approaches.”

    The commission brought together 24 international experts to systematically review existing research and provide evidence-based recommendations for treating and preventing dementia. About 47 million people have dementia worldwide and that number is expected to climb as high as 66 million by 2030 and 115 million by 2050.

    Reducing dementia risk, beginning in childhood

    The commission’s report identifies nine risk factors in early, mid- and late life that increase the likelihood of developing dementia. About 35 percent of dementia — one in three cases — is attributable to these risk factors, the report says.

    By increasing education in early life and addressing hearing loss, hypertension and obesity in midlife, the incidence of dementia could be reduced by as much as 20 percent, combined.

    In late life, stopping smoking, treating depression, increasing physical activity, increasing social contact and managing diabetes could reduce the incidence of dementia by another 15 percent.

    “The potential magnitude of the effect on dementia of reducing these risk factors is larger than we could ever imagine the effect that current, experimental medications could have,” Schneider says. “Mitigating risk factors provides us a powerful way to reduce the global burden of dementia.”

    A nonpharmacologic approach to treating dementia

    The commission also examined the effect of nonpharmacologic interventions for people with dementia and concluded that they had an important role in treatment, especially when trying to address agitation and aggression.

    “Antipsychotic drugs are commonly used to treat agitation and aggression, but there is substantial concern about these drugs because of an increased risk of death, cardiovascular adverse events and infections, not to mention excessive sedation,” Schneider says.

    The evidence showed that psychological, social and environmental interventions such as social contact and activities were superior to antipsychotic medications for treating dementia-related agitation and aggression.

    The commission also found that nonpharmacologic interventions like group cognitive stimulation therapy and exercise conferred some benefit in cognition as well.

    The commission’s full report provides detailed recommendations in the areas of prevention, treating cognitive symptoms, individualizing dementia care, caring for caregivers, planning for the future following a dementia diagnosis, managing neuropsychiatric symptoms and considering the end of life.


  4. Gene variant increases risk for depression

    by Ashley

    From the University of Central Florida press release:

    A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

    People with apolipoprotein-E4, called ApoE4 for short, have a 20 percent greater chance of developing clinically significant depressive symptoms later in life compared to those who don’t have the gene variant, said Rosanna Scott, lead author of the study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. She will present her work at the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics conference in San Francisco next week. Scott, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology, found the link while working on her thesis.

    “Some genes are deterministic, like the one that causes Huntington’s disease — where if you’ve got it, you’ll get the disease. This isn’t one of those genes,” said Daniel Paulson, Scott’s faculty advisor and an assistant professor of psychology who co-authored the study.

    Scott used health and well-being data of 3,203 participants as they aged from 53 to 71 years old. The data came from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a long-term study of health, relationships, mortality and more of people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. Those who have ApoE4 reported more symptoms of depression as they aged.

    “Her thesis addressed a critical gap in the theoretical framework of this area of study,” Paulson said. “Now we can more systematically move forward with research on causes and treatments for late-life depression.”

    Scott wanted to study ApoE4 and its potential links to depression because this variant of the ApoE gene is also known to negatively impact how a body handles cholesterol. Previous research — and Scott confirmed in the first paper of her thesis published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry — found that vascular-system risk factors such as high cholesterol, hypertension and high blood sugar also increase risk for depression. Vascular burden impacts how blood and nutrients are delivered throughout the body and to the brain, therefore impacting mood. Scott wondered if adults with ApoE4 and high vascular burden are at a compounded risk for depression.

    Her research concluded that ApoE4 and poor vascular health do not create a compounded risk, but both independently increase the likelihood of depression.

    Scott’s findings add clarity to the literature that’s already out in the scientific community on this topic, Paulson said. Prior research findings were inconsistent regarding ApoE4 and its risks for depression, and were done with small sample groups, too young a sample, or with data that wasn’t collected during a long period of time, she said.

    Scott aspires to specialize in neuropsychology after completing her Ph.D. She’d like to work in academia to help guide student researchers like herself, and she’d also like to provide neuropsychological assessment and therapy services to the community. She’s particularly interested in chronic health conditions and how they impact mood in older adults.

    “Bottom line, you do statistically have a higher risk of developing depression if you have ApoE4, but it’s not deterministic. You can’t change your genes, but you do have some control over improving your health,” she said. “That should be encouraging.”


  5. Study suggests depression changes structure of the brain

    August 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Edinburgh press release:

    Changes in the brain’s structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.

    Alterations were found in parts of the brain known as white matter, which contains fibre tracts that enable brain cells to communicate with one another by electrical signals.

    White matter is a key component of the brain’s wiring and its disruption has been linked to problems with emotion processing and thinking skills.

    The study of more than 3000 people — the largest of its type to date — sheds light on the biology of depression and could help in the search for better diagnosis and treatment.

    Scientists at the University of Edinburgh used a cutting-edge technique known as diffusion tensor imaging to map the structure of white matter.

    A quality of the matter — known as white matter integrity — was reduced in people who reported symptoms indicative of depression. The same changes were not seen in people who were unaffected.

    Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability, affecting around a fifth of UK adults over a lifetime. Symptoms include low mood, exhaustion and feelings of emptiness.

    Experts say the large number of people included in the sample — 3461 — means that the study findings are very robust.

    Participants were drawn from UK Biobank, a national research resource with health data available from 500,000 volunteers.

    The study forms part of a Wellcome Trust initiative called Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally (STRADL), which aims to classify subtypes of depression and identify risk factors.

    Heather Whalley, Senior Research Fellow in the University of Edinburgh’s Division of Psychiatry, said: “This study uses data from the largest single sample published to date and shows that people with depression have changes in the white matter wiring of their brain.

    “There is an urgent need to provide treatment for depression and an improved understanding of it mechanisms will give us a better chance of developing new and more effective methods of treatment. Our next steps will be to look at how the absence of changes in the brain relates to better protection from distress and low mood.”

    The work — published in Scientific Reports — was carried out in collaboration with the University of Glasgow.


  6. Study links duration of estrogen exposure with increased vulnerability to depression

    August 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) press release:

    It’s no secret that the risk of depression increases for women when their hormones are fluctuating. Especially vulnerable times include the menopause transition and onset of postmenopause. There’s also postpartum depression that can erupt shortly after childbirth. But why do some women feel blue while others seem to skate through these transitions? One answer is provided through study results being published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

    The article “Lifelong estradiol exposure and risk of depressive symptoms during the transition to menopause and postmenopause” includes data from a study of more than 1,300 regularly menstruating premenopausal women aged 42 to 52 years at study entry. The primary goal of the study was to understand why some women are more vulnerable to depression, even though all women experience hormone fluctuations.

    Previous studies have suggested a role for reproductive hormones in causing an increased susceptibility to depression. This study focused largely on the effect of estradiol, the predominant estrogen present during the reproductive years. Among other things, estradiol modulates the synthesis, availability, and metabolism of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in depression. Whereas fluctuations of estradiol during the menopause transition are universal, the duration of exposure to estradiol throughout the adult years varies widely among women.

    A key finding of this study was that longer duration of estrogen exposure from the start of menstruation until the onset of menopause was significantly associated with a reduced risk of depression during the transition to menopause and for up to 10 years postmenopause. Also noteworthy was that longer duration of birth control use was associated with a decreased risk of depression, but the number of pregnancies or incidence of breastfeeding had no association.

    “Women are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms during and after the menopause transition because of fluctuating hormone changes,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of NAMS. “This study additionally found a higher risk for depression in those with earlier menopause, fewer menstrual cycles over lifespan, or more frequent hot flashes. Women and their providers need to recognize symptoms of depression such as mood changes, loss of pleasure, changes in weight or sleep, fatigue, feeling worthless, being unable to make decisions, or feeling persistently sad and take appropriate action.”


  7. New study of brain circuits finds key links to symptoms of depression

    August 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    University of California San Diego scientists have linked specific wiring in the brain to distinct behavioral symptoms of depression.

    In a study published in the journal Cell, researchers in UC San Diego’s Division of Biological Sciences found brain circuits tied to feelings of despair and helplessness and were able to alleviate and even reverse such symptoms in mice studies.

    “We took an approach of studying depression in the sense that different brain areas and circuits of the brain might mediate or contribute to very discrete aspects of depression,” said study first-author Daniel Knowland, a UC San Diego graduate student. “For example, brain area A might contribute to loss of appetite, brain area B to social withdrawal and so forth.”

    Senior author Byungkook Lim, an assistant professor in the Neurobiology Section, said the results require much more study and evaluation to be applied to humans with depression, but the new research in animal models provides solid grounding.

    “This is one of the first studies providing clear evidence showing that different brain circuitry is involved in different types of depressive behavior with specific symptoms,” said Lim. “Each area of the brain is different with distinct cell types and connectivity, so if we can confirm that one area of circuitry is more involved in a particular symptom than another, we may eventually be able to treat a depression patient more efficiently than treating everyone the same way.”

    The researchers employed several tools to track brain pathways and specific areas of neurons involved in specific behaviors, including imaging techniques and social strategy behavioral models. Two populations of neurons were identified in the brain’s ventral pallidum region (part of the basal ganglia) as key to underlying depressive behavior.

    The new study found that specifically modifying pathways in these two areas in a mouse displaying depression led to improved behavioral changes similar to those of a healthy mouse. More importantly, this study provides strong insight to understanding the interaction between several brain areas in depression. Previous studies have mainly focused on the role of certain brain areas in isolation. Researchers in the new study were able to examine connections across multiple regions and how one impacted the other.


  8. How social rank can trigger vulnerability to stress

    August 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne press release:

    Stress is a major risk factor for a range of psychopathologies. However, stress does not affect everyone equally: in the face of sustained adversity, some people develop depression symptoms while others adapt and remain resilient. Identifying risk factors and biomarkers for vulnerability to developing stress-induced depression in order to identify individual susceptibility before stress exposure has been a major challenge. EPFL scientists have now shown that social organization can affect differential vulnerability to chronic stress and underscored brain energy metabolism as a predictive biomarker for social status and susceptibility to stress-induced depression. The work is published in Current Biology.

    The work was carried out by the lab of Carmen Sandi at EPFL, which has long history of research on stress. Previous studies have repeatedly shown that following exposure to defeat experiences, some mice show signs of depression such as avoiding social contact, while other mice behave as unstressed, retaining normal social interests. But most of this work identified vulnerability in the mice based on symptoms developed after stress exposure, not before.

    The EPFL researchers were intrigued by the fact that differential vulnerability to stress is observed in mice known as C57BL/6J, which are genetically identical. The mice in the study had also been exposed to the same housing and living conditions to exclude the influence genetic factors or issues related to early life trauma.

    Since mice typically live in groups of four per cage, the scientists reasoned that the hierarchical order established within the homecage might be related to the vulnerability to stress. By giving mice from the same homecage competitive challenges, the researchers could identify the dominant and the subordinate animals in each group. Then, following chronic stress exposure, they found that dominant animals are the ones that display a susceptibility to stress by showing strong social avoidance. On the other hand, subordinate mice behaved like the non-stressed ones, showing resilience.

    Subsequently, the scientists collaborated with the lab of Rolf Gruetter at EPFL to apply an in vivo neuroimaging technique known as proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H-NMR) spectroscopy that measures metabolite levels in the brain. They focused on two brain regions: the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in motivation and reward, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in planning.

    The neuroimaging showed that the metabolic profile of the nucleus accumbens relates to social status and vulnerability to stress. More precisely, non-stressed, subordinate individuals showed lower levels of metabolites related to energy metabolism (glutamate, phosphocreatine, total creatine, N-acetylaspartate, and taurine) in the nucleus accumbens than dominant mice. But after exposure to chronic stress, the metabolite levels of energy-related metabolites were increased in subordinate, but not in dominant mice.

    The study is the first to non-invasively identify risk factors and biomarkers that predict social status and stress-induced depression-like behavior. On an experimental level, the findings can now help make progress on investigating of mechanisms related to vulnerability and resilience to stress, as it will help stratifying individuals in longitudinal studies. On a clinical level, the study shows that energy metabolism in the nucleus accumbens can be a potential biomarker for stress vulnerability. And the study also has multiple implications on a societal level, given the ubiquitous nature of hierarchies in our society.

    “Our findings reinforce the view that losing status is more pertinent to depression than social subordination,” says Carmen Sandi. “In the future, it will be important to study whether social status can also predict depression or anxiety when individuals are chronically exposed to stressors of a non-social nature.” Her group will now capitalize on these findings to investigate the value of interventions that target energy metabolism in the brain, in order to help vulnerable individuals to cope with stress.


  9. Study suggests gender differences in bipolar disorder biomarkers

    July 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Men and women react differently to compounds associated with immune system response to bipolar disorder, according to an international team of medical researchers. The findings suggest that bipolar disorder could one day be diagnosed by measuring biological changes in the body, and that treatments could be tailored differently for men and women.

    Bipolar disorder is a recurring mood condition that will affect about 1 to 4 percent of people in the United States over their lifetimes.

    The study measured levels of zinc and neopterin, two immune system factors, in the blood of female and male hospital patients experiencing a major manic or depressive episode. Blood concentrations were compared to those of a healthy control group. Both zinc and neopterin are compounds that have previously been associated with inflammatory processes. Neopterin is an immune marker secreted by white blood cells when the immune system is activated, while the mineral zinc is required for the immune system to function. Researchers reported their findings in the journal Psychiatry Research.

    Two unique features of bipolar disorder led to this study.

    First, researchers know that women and men with bipolar disorder experience episodes of mania or depression — the two hallmarks of the condition — differently, and may have different coexisting health issues. Female patients with bipolar disorder, for example, are more likely than male patients to experience depressive episodes, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines and dysregulated mood due to poor sleep. Because bipolar disorder is different in women and men, researchers suspect that different biological processes may underlie the condition in the two sexes.

    Second, the immune system is activated during bipolar episodes, and previous research shows that immune system activation in bipolar disorder causes harmful low-level inflammation in the brain.

    “When a person has mania or depression, certain parts of their brain are affected,” said Erika F.H. Saunders, professor and chair of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine and senior author of the new study. “For example, the hippocampus, which is important in memory formation, shrinks, and the connections between different parts of the brain are affected. We think that inflammation is playing a role in some of those changes that are then associated with poor functioning in bipolar disorder.”

    The immune system also functions differently in women and men. Therefore, in the new study, Saunders and the other researchers set out to see if immune system factors were different in women and men with bipolar disorder, with the eventual goal of finding reliable markers for the disease.

    Researchers recruited 27 people with bipolar disorder for the study. They had lower levels of zinc in their blood than the 31 healthy people in the control group. There was no difference in neopterin levels between the two groups.

    Differences between men and women emerged when the researchers looked at severity of depression or mania. Women’s depression was worse if they had higher concentrations of zinc in their blood, while men’s mania was worse if they had higher concentrations of neopterin. These findings should not be interpreted as advice for patients with bipolar disorder to take or not take zinc, the researchers point out.

    The finding that high zinc levels were associated with depression severity in women was somewhat surprising, Saunders said, because zinc deficiency has been associated with depression in the past.

    One possible explanation is that high levels of zinc in the blood may indicate lower levels in the brain. Saunders and her colleagues are now following up in animal studies, measuring zinc levels in the brains of mice with inflammatory depression.

    “What we are aiming for ultimately as a field and as a research group is to have a blood marker that we can use in the clinic that will help us predict when someone is developing a bipolar episode, and conversely when a treatment is working,” Saunders said. “The work that we’re doing in conjunction with the work of others across the country is understanding each individual factor that can then be put together in a larger way.”


  10. Study looks at gender differences in neurological effect of depression

    July 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    When researchers in the UK exposed depressed adolescents to happy or sad words and imaged their brains, they found that depression has different effects on the brain activity of male and female patients in certain brain regions. The findings suggest that adolescent girls and boys might experience depression differently and that sex-specific treatments could be beneficial for adolescents.

    Men and women appear to suffer from depression differently, and this is particularly striking in adolescents. By 15 years of age, girls are twice as likely to suffer from depression as boys. There are various possible reasons for this, including body image issues, hormonal fluctuations and genetic factors, where girls are more at risk of inheriting depression. However, differences between the sexes don’t just involve the risk of experiencing depression, but also how the disorder manifests and its consequences.

    “Men are more liable to suffer from persistent depression, whereas in women depression tends to be more episodic,” explains Jie-Yu Chuang, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, and an author on the study, which was recently published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. “Compared with women, depressed men are also more likely to suffer serious consequences from their depression, such as substance abuse and suicide.” Despite this, so far, most researchers have focused on depression in women, likely because it is more common.

    This motivated Chuang and her colleagues to carry out this latest study to find differences between depressed men and women. They recruited adolescent volunteers for the study, who were aged between 11 and 18 years. This included 82 female and 24 male patients who suffered from depression, and 24 female and 10 male healthy volunteers. The researchers imaged the adolescents’ brains using magnetic resonance imaging, while flashing happy, sad or neutral words on a screen in a specific order.

    The volunteers pressed a button when certain types of words appeared and did not press the button when others appeared, and the researchers measured their brain activity throughout the experiment. When the researchers flashed certain combinations of words on the screen, they noticed that depression affects brain activity differently between boys and girls in brain regions such as the supramarginal gyrus and posterior cingulate.

    So, what do these results mean? “Our finding suggests that early in adolescence, depression might affect the brain differently between boys and girls,” explains Chuang. “Sex-specific treatment and prevention strategies for depression should be considered early in adolescence. Hopefully, these early interventions could alter the disease trajectory before things get worse.”

    The brain regions highlighted in the study have been previously linked to depression, but further work is needed to understand why they are affected differently in depressed boys, and if this is related to how boys experience and handle depression.

    Because depression is more common in girls, the researchers were not able to recruit as many boys in this study, and future experiments should compare similar numbers of girls and boys for more representative results. Chuang and her colleagues would like to explore this phenomenon further. “I think it would be great to conduct a large longitudinal study addressing sex differences in depression from adolescence to adulthood.”