1. Study suggests brain activity buffers against worsening anxiety

    November 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    Boosting activity in brain areas related to thinking and problem-solving may also buffer against worsening anxiety, suggests a new study by Duke University researchers.

    Using non-invasive brain imaging, the researchers found that people at-risk for anxiety were less likely to develop the disorder if they had higher activity in a region of the brain responsible for complex mental operations. The results may be a step towards tailoring psychological therapies to the specific brain functioning of individual patients.

    “These findings help reinforce a strategy whereby individuals may be able to improve their emotional functioning — their mood, their anxiety, their experience of depression — not only by directly addressing those phenomena, but also by indirectly improving their general cognitive functioning,” said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. The results are published Nov. 17 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

    Previous findings from Hariri’s group show that people whose brains exhibit a high response to threat and a low response to reward are more at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression over time.

    In the current work, Hariri and Matthew Scult, a clinical psychology graduate student in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, wanted to investigate whether higher activity in a region of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could help shield these at-risk individuals from future mental illness.

    “We wanted to address an area of understanding mental illness that has been neglected, and that is the flip side of risk,” Hariri said. “We are looking for variables that actually confer resiliency and protect individuals from developing problems.”

    The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is our brain’s “executive control” center, helping us focus our attention and plan complex actions. It also plays a role in emotion regulation, and well-established types of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, engage this region of the brain by equipping patients with strategies to reframe or re-evaluate their emotions.

    The team drew on data from 120 undergraduate students who participated in the Duke Neurogenetics Study. Each participant completed a series of mental health questionnaires and underwent a type of non-invasive brain scan called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while engaged in tasks meant to activate specific regions of the brain.

    The researchers asked each participant to answer simple memory-based math problems to stimulate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Participants also viewed angry or scared faces to activate a region of the brain called the amygdala, and played a reward-based guessing game to stimulate activity in the brain’s ventral striatum.

    Scult was particularly interested in “at-risk” individuals with the combination of high threat-related activity in the amygdala and low reward-related activity in the ventral striatum. By comparing participants’ mental health assessments at the time of the brain scans, and in a follow-up occurring on average seven months later, he found that these at-risk individuals were less likely to develop anxiety if they also had high activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

    “We found that if you have a higher functioning dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the imbalance in these deeper brain structures is not expressed as changes in mood or anxiety,” Hariri said.

    The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is especially skilled at adapting to new situations, the researchers say. Individuals whose brains exhibit the at-risk signatures may be more likely to benefit from strategies that boost the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal activity, including cognitive behavioral therapy, working memory training, or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

    But, the researchers warn, the jury is still out on whether many brain-training exercises improve the overall functioning of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or only hone its ability to complete the specific task being trained. Additional studies on more diverse populations are also needed to confirm their findings.

    “We are hoping to help improve current mental health treatments by first predicting who is most at-risk so that we can intervene earlier, and second, by using these types of approaches to determine who might benefit from a given therapy,” Scult said.


  2. Study suggests hair cortisol levels predict which mothers are more likely to suffer postpartum depression

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Granada press release:

    Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR), who belong to the Brain, Mind and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC, from its abbreviation in Spanish) and the Faculty of Psychology, have proven that cortisol levels (a steroid hormone secreted as a response to stress) present in the hair of pregnant women during the first or third trimesters of pregnancy may indicate which of them are more likely to suffer postpartum depression.

    Their work, published in the PLoS ONE journal, showed that hair cortisol levels in women who developed postpartum depression were higher throughout pregnancy than those seen in women who hadn’t developed it, being that difference statistically more significant during the first and third trimesters.

    The UGR researchers carried out their study doing a follow-up on 44 pregnant women throughout the whole gestation period and after giving birth. Each trimester the mothers underwent a series of tests that evaluated their stress and psychopathological symptoms while simultaneously taking hair samples from which the researchers extracted the cortisol corresponding to the last three months.

    The following days after labor the researchers evaluated the mothers’ emotional state in order to assess who among them had developed postpartum depression.

    Quarterly psychopathological symptoms

    Additionally, the results of the study showed that the participants which developed postpartum depression showed higher levels of somatization during the first trimester. During the second trimester they showed higher levels of somatization, obsession-compulsion, depression and anxiety, and during the third trimester they showed higher levels of somatization and pregnancy-specific stress. Therefore, all those symptoms along with higher levels of cortisol would be indicators of a future postpartum depression.

    As María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, lead researcher of the project says, the consequences of those results are very important in the prevention of postpartum depression, “since they show that there are various altered psychological and hormonal variables throughout the whole gestation period in comparison to those women who will not suffer postpartum depression. Detecting those differences is the key to anticipate the psychological state of the mother as well as the consequences for the baby that said state could mean.”

    This study belongs to the GESTASTRESS research project, in the research excellence framework of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Its primary goal has been to assess the effects of psychological stress on the mother throughout the whole gestation period as well as on birth variables, and on the baby’s stress and neurodevelopment.


  3. Study suggests optimists and happy people are healthier overall

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Research shows that optimists and happy people are healthier overall, enjoying lower blood pressure and less depression and anxiety, among other measures.

    However, data on the effect of weight and Body Mass Index on physical and mental health are rare — especially among college students, who suffer high rates of anxiety and depression and often neglect physical self-care and exercise.

    To that end, researchers from the University of Michigan and Fudan University in China set out to learn the extent to which BMI and positive outlook affect the physical and mental health of college students in China’s Fudan University.

    They found that a positive outlook and BMI both contributed significantly to good health, said Weiyun Chen, associate professor of health and fitness at the U-M School of Kinesiology.

    Researchers asked 925 students to rate four indicators of psychological well-being: hope, gratitude, life satisfaction and subjective happiness. They also calculated students’ BMI based on self-reported body weight and height. To assess physical and mental health, researchers asked students various questions about their sleep quality and how often they felt healthy, energized, worthless, fidgety, anxious or depressed.

    Chen said that taken together, the four psychological variables and BMI accounted for 41 percent of the total variance in health. Individually, subjective happiness had the most significant impact, followed by hope, and then BMI.

    By themselves, gratitude and life satisfaction didn’t influence overall health. Also, interestingly, BMI was correlated with physical and overall health, but not with hope, gratitude, life satisfaction or mental health.

    In light of the intense academic pressure Chinese college students face, especially at elite institutions like Fudan, Chen said she was surprised by how many students rated themselves happy and healthy. This could point to China’s emphasis on well-being in schools.

    “They have structured, organized physical educations classes,” Chen said. “It’s not just fitness, it’s a variety of things so you can meet different people’s needs. They realized that emphasizing only academics isn’t good for overall health, and that they needed to emphasize the wellness part.”

    These numbers might look different for college students in the U.S., where two of three adults are overweight or obese, and 17 percent of youth ages 2-19 are considered obese, according to the CDC.

    By contrast, 714 Fudan students, or 77.2 percent, were classified as normal body weight, while only 83 students were overweight, and just 5 students were obese, with 123 students considered underweight.

    “Over the past 20 years, the United States has shrunk physical education in elementary school and in college,” Chen said. “In China, especially in the past decade, they have started to emphasize physical education, and they are taking a holistic, whole person approach.”

    Chen said the findings suggest that universities should creatively design wellness programs and centers that dynamically integrate body, mind and spirit into a seamless unit.

    The study has several limitations: all students were recruited from one university, and the results cannot be generalized; the research design prevented establishing causal effects; and the study did not account for gender differences.


  4. Study indicates all forms of sexual harassment can cause psychological harm

    November 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Norwegian University of Science and Technology press release:

    Being exposed to non-physical sexual harassment can negatively affect symptoms of anxiety, depression, negative body image and low self-esteem,” say Associate Professor Mons Bendixen and Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

    This applies to derogatory sexual remarks about appearance, behaviour and sexual orientation, unwanted sexual attention, being subject to rumouring, and being shown sexually oriented images, and the like.

    The researchers posed questions about sexual harassment experienced in the previous year and received responses from almost 3,000 high school students in two separate studies. The responses paint a clear picture.

    Worst for girls

    This is not exclusively something boys do against girls. It’s just as common for boys to harass boys in these ways.

    Girls and boys are equally exposed to unpleasant or offensive non-physical sexual harassment. About 62 per cent of both sexes report that they have experienced this in the past year.

    “Teens who are harassed the most also struggle more in general. But girls generally struggle considerably more than boys, no matter the degree to which they’re being harassed in this way,” Kennair notes.

    Girls are also more negatively affected by sexual harassment than boys are,” adds Bendixen.

    Being a girl is unquestionably the most important risk factor when teens report that they struggle with anxiety, depression, negative body image or low self-esteem.

    However, non-physical sexual harassment is the second most important factor, and is more strongly associated with adolescents’ psychological well-being than being subjected to sexual coercion in the past year or sexual assault prior to that.

    Level of severity

    Bendixen and Kennair believe it’s critical to distinguish between different forms of harassment.

    They divided the types of harassment into two main groups: non-physical harassment and physically coercive sexual behaviour, such as unwanted kissing, groping, intimate touch, and intercourse. Physical sexual coercion is often characterized as sexual abuse in the literature.

    Studies usually lump these two forms of unwanted behaviour together into the same measure. This means that a derogatory comment is included in the same category as rape.

    “As far as we know, this is the first study that has distinguished between these two forms and specifically looked at the effects of non-physical sexual harassment,” says Bendixen.

    Comments that for some individuals may seem innocent enough can cause significant problems for others.

    Many factors accounted for

    Not everyone interprets slang or slurs the same way. If someone calls you a “whore” or “gay,” you may not find it offensive. For this reason, the researchers let the adolescents decide whether they perceived a given action as offensive or not, and had them only report what they did find offensive.

    The article presents data from two studies. The first study from 2007 included 1384 high school students. The second study included 1485 students and was conducted in 2013-2014. Both studies were carried out in Sør-Trøndelag county and are comparable with regard to demographic conditions.

    The results of the first study were reproduced in the second. The findings from the two studies matched each other closely.

    The researchers also took into account a number of other potentially influential factors, such as having parents who had separated or were unemployed, educational programme (vocational or general studies), sexual minority status, immigrant status, and whether they had experienced physical coercion in the past year or any sexual assaults previous to that.

    “We’ve found that sexual minorities generally reported more psychological distress,” says Bendixen. The same applied to young people with parents who are unemployed. On the other hand, students with immigrant status did not report more psychological issues. Bendixen also notes that sexual minorities did not seem to be more negatively affected by sexual harassment than their heterosexual peers.

    However, the researchers did find a clear negative effect of non-physical sexual harassment, over and beyond that of the risk factors above.

    Uncertain as to what is an effective intervention

    So what can be done to reduce behaviours that may cause such serious problems for so many?

    Kennair concedes that he doesn’t know what can help.

    “This has been studied for years and in numerous countries, but no studies have yet revealed any lasting effects of measures aimed at combating sexual harassment,” Bendixen says. “We know that attitude campaigns can change people’s attitudes to harassment, but it doesn’t result in any reduction in harassment behaviour.”

    Bendixen and Kennair want to look into this in an upcoming study. Their goal is to develop practices that reduce all forms of sexual harassment and thereby improve young people’s psychological well-being.


  5. Researchers develop psychotherapy treatment for refugees’ trauma

    by Ashley

    From the Bielefeld University press release:

    They are suffering from nightmares, flashbacks, depression, or anxiety disorders: refugees coming to Germany from conflict areas are frequently traumatized. ‘Realistic estimates state that up to 40 per cent of refugees have mental problems. Hence, for the period since 2015, we are talking about several hundred thousand people who are in real need of psychological support,’ says Professor Dr. Frank Neuner from Bielefeld University. The psychologist is one of the team responsible for developing ‘Narrative Exposure Therapy’ (NET). It has been applied over the last 15 years in conflict zones from East Africa to Sri Lanka. What is special about this therapy is that it shows success after only a few sessions. In a new ‘research_tv’ programme at Bielefeld University, Frank Neuner talks about NET and explains the consequences of leaving refugees without treatment.

    ‘I believe that a large part of the general population is willing to accept that we now need to invest substantially in dealing with these traumatized refugees and that the state must make money available for this,’ says Frank Neuner. ‘Due to the threats in their home countries, many refugees will be staying with us for a long time. By helping them now, we shall be warding off problems that will otherwise confront us unavoidably in 20 or 30 years time.’

    Neuner designed and tested NET together with Dr. Maggie Schauer and Professor Dr. Thomas Elbert from the University of Konstanz. By working with this method, hundreds of child soldiers, victims of political violence, and war refugees have been able to process their traumatic experiences.

    The key principle of NET is a highly valued practice in every culture: telling stories. ‘Whenever we have gone through an emotional experience, we try to tell stories. This is how we try to make what we have experienced comprehensible to others,’ says Neuner. ‘Refugees have experienced a whole series of traumatic events. We talk together with them about their entire life history and build up a kind of autobiography that enables them to embed the single traumatic experiences in a meaningful context and work out the significance they have in their own personal lives.’ Together with their therapist, traumatized persons work their way repeatedly and chronologically through the negative and positive events in their lives. ‘The idea is to historicize the traumatic events. This permits closure, so that they no longer threaten the present.’

    To deliver therapy to people in crisis zones, Neuner together with colleagues from the University of Konstanz and further supporters founded the aid organisation ‘Vivo’. It is training lay therapists in countries such as Sri Lanka, Ruanda, Uganda, and the Congo. Unlike Germany, the health systems of these countries do not provide access to professional therapists. ‘However, even Germany does not have enough therapists to treat all the refugees with traumatic disorders. Many people in Germany already have to wait months for a treatment slot with a therapist,’ says Neuner. ‘One step towards a solution could be to give NET training to refugees and migrants here in Germany and to employ them within a stepped care model supervised by psychotherapists. However, the German legal situation does not permit this at present.’

    NET is already being practiced by professional therapists in Germany. Bielefeld University’s psychotherapy clinic is applying the method in therapy studies not only refugees with but also with survivors of child abuse, rape victims, and former members of the German military. The scientific further education centres at Bielefeld University and the University of Konstanz are qualifying psychologists, medical doctors, and psychotherapists to work with NET.


  6. Study shows clear effect of art therapy on severe depression

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Gothenburg press release:

    Create a picture of how you are feeling on this particular day, said the first exercise in the art therapy. After ten treatments the patients who suffered from severe or moderately severe depression had shown more improvement than the patients in the control group, shows research at Sahlgrenska academy.

    “The conclusion is that it was the art therapy that facilitated their improvement,” says Christina Blomdahl, PhD at the institute of health and care sciences, licensed occupational therapist and art therapist.

    As part of her dissertation she has allowed 43 patients with severe or moderately severe depression to undergo a manual-based art therapy that she has developed herself. The control group consisted of 36 people who all suffered from the same medical condition.

    In parallel with this, all participants were given different combinations of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and physical therapy. The majority of the participants were so affected by their depression that they were unable to work.

    The individual art therapy took place in psychiatry or primary care and was conducted by a specially trained therapist. Each session began with a short briefing and a relaxation exercise. After that it was crayons, water colors and creation that was on the agenda, all based on a predetermined setup.

    “They followed the manual I had created in order to ensure that it was scientific, but although everyone was given the same theme to go on the patients responded very differently to the exercises. The materials were simple, allowing people to doodle and feel free to express themselves the way they wanted to, and then they would talk about the picture and its significance to the participant,” explains Christina Blomdahl.

    After ten hour-long treatment sessions the patients had improved on an average of almost five steps on a rating scale used for depression. A large leap that entails a considerable change to everyday life, and sometimes it may also mean that a patient is able to return to work.

    Anxiety, sleep, ability to take initiative and emotional involvement are some of the factors that are assessed. In the control group that had not undergone art therapy there was no definite change.

    “The focal point was that people felt like they were meeting themselves; that the picture served as a mirror where you could see and make new discoveries about yourself, a bit like coming to life, says Christina Blomdahl.

    “Even the people who did not experience any direct benefit from the treatment had shown improvement. Painting pictures based on themes and discussing the pictures with the therapist promotes self-reflection and brain stimulation that takes place outside of the conscious mind,” she continues.

    “It is my hope that art therapy will be used in healthcare again. Based on evidence requirements it has been more or less scrapped by psychiatry, but this is one of the largest studies that has been conducted in this area and it is a step that may lead to more people being trained in it and the method being used again,” Christina Blomdahl concludes.

    Further information: https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/52419


  7. Study identifies mechanism that helps us inhibit unwanted thoughts

    November 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Cambridge press release:

    Scientists have identified a key chemical within the ‘memory’ region of the brain that allows us to suppress unwanted thoughts, helping explain why people who suffer from disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and schizophrenia often experience persistent intrusive thoughts when these circuits go awry.

    We are sometimes confronted with reminders of unwanted thoughts — thoughts about unpleasant memories, images or worries. When this happens, the thought may be retrieved, making us think about it again even though we prefer not to. While being reminded in this way may not be a problem when our thoughts are positive, if the topic was unpleasant or traumatic, our thoughts may be very negative, worrying or ruminating about what happened, taking us back to the event.

    “Our ability to control our thoughts is fundamental to our wellbeing,” explains Professor Michael Anderson from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge. “When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases: intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations, and pathological and persistent worries. These are all key symptoms of mental illnesses such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.”

    Professor Anderson likens our ability to intervene and stop ourselves retrieving particular memories and thoughts to stopping a physical action. “We wouldn’t be able to survive without controlling our actions,” he says. “We have lots of quick reflexes that are often useful, but we sometimes need to control these actions and stop them from happening. There must be a similar mechanism for helping us stop unwanted thoughts from occurring.”

    A region at the front of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex is known to play a key role in controlling our actions and has more recently been shown to play a similarly important role in stopping our thoughts. The prefrontal cortex acts as a master regulator, controlling other brain regions — the motor cortex for actions and the hippocampus for memories.

    In research published today in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists led by Dr Taylor Schmitz and Professor Anderson used a task known as the ‘Think/No-Think’ procedure to identify a significant new brain process that enables the prefrontal cortex to successfully inhibit our thoughts.

    In the task, participants learn to associate a series of words with a paired, but otherwise unconnected, word, for example ordeal/roach and moss/north. In the next stage, participants are asked to recall the associated word if the cue is green or to suppress it if the cue is red; in other words, when shown ‘ordeal’ in red, they are asked to stare at the word but to stop themselves thinking about the associated thought ‘roach’.

    Using a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the researchers were able to observe what was happening within key regions of the brain as the participants tried to inhibit their thoughts. Spectroscopy enabled the researchers to measure brain chemistry, and not just brain activity, as is usually done in imaging studies.

    Professor Anderson, Dr Schmitz and colleagues showed that the ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts relies on a neurotransmitter — a chemical within the brain that allows messages to pass between nerve cells — known as GABA. GABA is the main ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter in the brain, and its release by one nerve cell can suppress activity in other cells to which it is connected. Anderson and colleagues discovered that GABA concentrations within the hippocampus — a key area of the brain involved in memory — predict people’s ability to block the retrieval process and prevent thoughts and memories from returning.

    “What’s exciting about this is that now we’re getting very specific,” he explains. “Before, we could only say ‘this part of the brain acts on that part’, but now we can say which neurotransmitters are likely important — and as a result, infer the role of inhibitory neurons — in enabling us to stop unwanted thoughts.”

    “Where previous research has focused on the prefrontal cortex — the command centre — we’ve shown that this is an incomplete picture. Inhibiting unwanted thoughts is as much about the cells within the hippocampus — the ‘boots on the ground’ that receive commands from the prefrontal cortex. If an army’s foot-soldiers are poorly equipped, then its commanders’ orders cannot be implemented well.”

    The researchers found that even within his sample of healthy young adults, people with less hippocampal GABA (less effective ‘foot-soldiers’) were less able to suppress hippocampal activity by the prefrontal cortex — and as a result much worse at inhibiting unwanted thoughts.

    The discovery may answer one of the long-standing questions about schizophrenia. Research has shown that people affected by schizophrenia have ‘hyperactive’ hippocampi, which correlates with intrusive symptoms such as hallucinations. Post-mortem studies have revealed that the inhibitory neurons (which use GABA) in the hippocampi of these individuals are compromised, possibly making it harder for the prefrontal cortex to regulate activity in this structure. This suggests that the hippocampus is failing to inhibit errant thoughts and memories, which may be manifest as hallucinations.

    According to Dr Schmitz, “The environmental and genetic influences that give rise to hyperactivity in the hippocampus might underlie a range of disorders with intrusive thoughts as a common symptom.”

    In fact, studies have shown that elevated activity in the hippocampus is seen in a broad range of conditions such as PTSD, anxiety and chronic depression, all of which include a pathological inability to control thoughts — such as excessive worrying or rumination.

    While the study does not examine any immediate treatments, Professor Anderson believes it could offer a new approach to tackling intrusive thoughts in these disorders. “Most of the focus has been on improving functioning of the prefrontal cortex,” he says, “but our study suggests that if you could improve GABA activity within the hippocampus, this may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts.”

    The research was funded by the Medical Research Council.


  8. Study suggests saving neurons may offer new approach for treating Alzheimer’s disease

    by Ashley

    From the University of Iowa Health Care press release:

    Treatment with a neuroprotective compound that saves brain cells from dying also prevents the development of depression-like behavior and the later onset of memory and learning problems in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease. Although the treatment protects the animals from Alzheimer’s-type symptoms, it does not alter the buildup of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the rat brains.

    “We have known for a long time that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease have amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of abnormal tau protein, but it isn’t completely understood what is cause or effect in the disease process,” say senior study author Andrew Pieper, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry in the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and associate director of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute at the University of Iowa. “Our study shows that keeping neurons alive in the brain helps animals maintain normal neurologic function, regardless of earlier pathological events in the disease, such as accumulation of amyloid plaque and tau tangles.

    Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating neurodegenerative condition that gradually erodes a person’s memory and cognitive abilities. Estimates suggest that more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according the National Institute on Aging. In addition to the impact on cognition and memory, Alzheimer’s disease can also affect mood, with many people experiencing depression and anxiety before the cognitive decline is apparent. In fact, people who develop depression for the first time late in life are at a significantly increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

    “Traditional therapies have targeted the characteristic lesions in Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid deposition and tau pathologies. The findings of this study show that simply protecting neurons in Alzheimer’s disease without addressing the earlier pathological events may have potential as a new and exciting therapy,” says Jaymie Voorhees, PhD, first author of the study, which is an article-in-press in Biological Psychiatry.

    Saving brain cells protects brain function

    Pieper and Voorhees used an experimental compound called P7C3-S243 to prevent brain cells from dying in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease. The original P7C3 compound was discovered by Pieper and colleagues almost a decade ago, and P7C3-based compounds have since been shown to protect newborn neurons and mature neurons from cell death in animal models of many neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke, and traumatic brain injury. P7C3 compounds have also been shown to protect animals from developing depression-like behavior in response to stress-induced killing of nerve cells in the hippocampus, a brain region critical to mood regulation and cognition.

    The researchers tested the P7C3 compound in a well-established rat model of Alzheimer’s disease. As these rats age, they develop learning and memory problems that resemble the cognitive impairment seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. However, the new study revealed another similarity with Alzheimer’s patients. By 15 months of age, before the onset of memory problems, the rats developed depression-like symptoms. Developing depression for the first time late in life is associated with a significantly increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but this symptom has not been previously seen in animal models of the disease.

    Over a three-year period, Voorhees tested a large number of male and female Alzheimer’s and wild type rats that were divided into two groups. One group received the P7C3 compound on a daily basis starting at six months of age, and the other group received a placebo. The rats were tested at 15 months and 24 months of age for depressive-type behavior and learning and memory abilities.

    At 15-months of age, all the rats — both Alzheimer’s model and wild type, treated and untreated — had normal learning and memory abilities. However, the untreated Alzheimer’s rats exhibited pronounced depression-type behavior, while the Alzheimer’s rats that had been treated with the neuroprotective P7C3 compound behaved like the control rats and did not show depressive-type behavior.

    At 24 months of age (very old for rats), untreated Alzheimer’s rats had learning and memory deficits compared to control rats. In contrast, the P7C3-treated Alzheimer’s rats were protected and had similar cognitive abilities to the control rats.

    The team also examined the brains of the rats at the two time points. They found that the traditional hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid plaques, tau tangles, and neuroinflammation, were dramatically increased in the Alzheimer’s rats regardless of whether they were treated with P7C3 or not. However, significantly more neurons survived in the brains of Alzheimer’s rats that had received the P7C3 treatment.

    “This suggests a potential clinical benefit from keeping the brain cells alive even in the presence of earlier pathological events in Alzheimer’s disease, such as amyloid accumulation, tau tangles and neuroinflammation,” Pieper says. “In cases of new-onset late life depression, a treatment like P7C3 might be particularly useful as it could help stabilize mood and also protect from later memory problems in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”


  9. Study suggests depressed fathers risk not getting help

    November 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Lund University press release:

    Postnatal depression among new mothers is a well-known phenomenon. Knowledge about depression in new fathers, however, is more limited. A new study from Lund University in Sweden shows that depression among new fathers may be more common than previously believed. There is also a major risk that it remains undetected using today’s screening instruments, and that fathers do not receive the help they need.

    Detecting depression in new parents is crucial — not only for their own sake but also because depressed parents often become less perceptive to the needs of their child, particularly if the child cries a lot. Babies of depressed parents tend to receive less stimulation which, eventually, could lead to slower development. In some cases, depression may lead to neglect of the child or inappropriately forceful behaviors.

    “These behaviours are not unusual — depression does not only involve major suffering for the parent, but also a risk for the child,” says Elia Psouni, associate professor of developmental psychology and co-author of the study, together with psychologists Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder.

    All new mothers are screened for depression, and an estimated 10-12 per cent of women are affected during their first year after giving birth. Fathers, however, are not screened, but previous international studies claim that the proportion of depressed fathers amounts to just over 8 per cent.

    The study of 447 new fathers showed that the established method of detecting depression (EPDS, Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) works poorly on men.

    “This means that current statistics may not tell the whole truth when it comes to depression in new fathers,” says Elia Psouni. “The screening method does not capture symptoms which are particularly common in men, such as irritation, restlessness, low stress tolerance, and lack of self-control.”

    Although one-third of the depressed fathers in the study had thoughts of hurting themselves, very few were in contact with the healthcare system. Among those who were classified being moderately to severely depressed, 83 per cent had not shared their suffering with anyone. Although difficult to know, the corresponding figure for new mothers is believed to be 20-50 per cent.

    “Telling people you feel depressed is taboo; as a new parent, you are expected to be happy. On top of that, previous research has shown that men are often reluctant to seeking help for mental health issues, especially depression; therefore it’s doubtful that they would reveal their suffering to a paediatric nurse,” says Elia Psouni.

    Elia Psouni, Johan Agebjörn and Hanne Linder hope that their study will lead to improved screening methods in accordance with their suggestions, delivered so that it can reach all fathers. The method they developed, which combines questions from EPDS and GMDS (Gotland Male Depression Scale), proved to be well-suited for capturing dads with multiple symptoms of depression.

    When it comes to screening depression in fathers, Elia Psouni thinks that the period to consider should be longer than the 12 months currently applied in studies of new mothers.

    “Among dads, depression is common even at the end of the first year, which may be due to the fact that they rarely get help, but there may be other explanations. Whatever the reason, it is important to monitor dads’ wellbeing as their part of the parental leave usually occurs towards the end of the child’s first year of life.”


  10. Study suggests antidepressants don’t always work when chronic disease is involved

    by Ashley

    From the UT Southwestern Medical Center press release:

    Scientists are finding more evidence that commonly prescribed antidepressants aren’t effective in people battling both depression and a chronic medical disease, raising a critical question of whether doctors should enact widespread changes in how they treat millions of depressed Americans.

    A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found depressed patients with chronic kidney disease did not benefit from a common antidepressant. The finding follows other research that indicates traditional antidepressants are also ineffective in depressed people with chronic conditions such as asthma and congestive heart failure.

    Experts with the O’Donnell Brain Institute say enough evidence now exists to prompt immediate change in how doctors approach depression cases in conjunction with chronic medical diseases.

    “There is little justification in prescribing an antidepressant that will not work and will only cause side effects,” says Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, senior author of the JAMA study and director of the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care, part of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “We should go back to the drawing board to understand the brain changes involved in these subtypes of depression.”

    Nearly half of Americans live with a chronic medical condition, ranging from cancer and dementia to arthritis and asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these people also have major depression, including more than half of Parkinson’s patients, 41 percent of cancer patients, and more than a quarter of those with diabetes.

    Doctors and patients should take these statistics into account when treating cases of major depression, says Dr. Trivedi, Professor of Psychiatry and holder of the Betty Jo Hay Distinguished Chair in Mental Health and the Julie K. Hersh Chair for Depression Research and Clinical Care.

    He says both sides should understand that standard antidepressants may not work and be prepared to try alternatives if routine monitoring of symptoms and side effects show another strategy is needed.

    Dr. Trivedi, who led the Star*D studies that established widely accepted treatment guidelines for depressed patients, has recently made progress on developing a blood test to determine in advance which antidepressants are more likely to work for important subgroups of patients. He also notes a range of other therapies that have proven effective for patients who don’t respond to initial treatments. These include ketamine, electroconvulsive therapy, neuromodulation with magnetic stimulation, psychotherapy, and exercise.