An individual suffering from depression may be at an increased risk of developing changes in the structure of the brain associated with communication and thinking skills, researchers say. The findings showed that 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 researchers said. Further, people with symptoms indicative of depression also had reductions in white matter integrity — a quality of the matter, which was not seen in people who were unaffected. “This study shows that people with depression have changes in the white matter wiring of their brain,” said Heather Whalley, senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh.
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. For the study, published in Scientific Reports, the team analysed 3461 people using an MRI-based neuroimaging technique to map the structure of white matter. “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,” Whalley said.
“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,” he added.