Brain Dif­fer­ences Seen in De­pressed Preschool­ers

Seen in De­pressed Preschool­ers

Wellness Update - - Contents -

Akey brain struc­ture that reg­u­lates emo­tions works dif­fer­ently in preschool­ers with de­pres­sion com­pared with their healthy peers, ac­cord­ing to new re­search at Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity School of Medicine in St. Louis. The dif­fer­ences, mea­sured us­ing func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imaging (fMRI), pro­vide the ear­li­est ev­i­dence yet of changes in brain func­tion in young chil­dren with de­pres­sion. The re­searchers say the find­ings could lead to ways to iden­tify and treat de­pressed chil­dren ear­lier in the course of the ill­ness, po­ten­tially pre­vent­ing prob­lems later in life. “The find­ings re­ally ham­mer home that th­ese kids are suf­fer­ing from a very real dis­or­der that re­quires treat­ment,” said lead au­thor Michael S. Gaf­frey, PhD. “We be­lieve this study demon­strates that there are dif­fer­ences in the brains of th­ese very young chil­dren and that they may mark the be­gin­nings of a life­long prob­lem.” De­pressed preschool­ers had el­e­vated ac­tiv­ity in the brain’s amyg­dala, an al­mond-shaped set of neu­rons im­por­tant in pro­cess­ing emo­tions. Ear­lier imaging stud­ies iden­ti­fied sim­i­lar changes in the amyg­dala re­gion in adults, ado­les­cents and older chil­dren with de­pres­sion, but none had looked at preschool­ers with de­pres­sion. “The amyg­dala re­gion showed el­e­vated ac­tiv­ity when the de­pressed chil­dren viewed pic­tures of peo­ple’s faces,” said Gaf­frey, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try. “We saw the same el­e­vated ac­tiv­ity, re­gard­less of the type of faces the chil­dren were shown. So it wasn’t that they re­acted only to sad faces or to happy faces, but ev­ery face they saw aroused ac­tiv­ity in the amyg­dala.” Gaf­frey said it’s pos­si­ble de­pres­sion af­fects the amyg­dala mainly by ex­ag­ger­at­ing what, in other chil­dren, is a nor­mal amyg­dala re­sponse to both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive fa­cial ex­pres­sions of emo­tion. But more re­search will be needed to prove that. He does be­lieve, how­ever, that the amyg­dala’s re­ac­tion to peo­ple’s faces can be seen in a larger con­text.

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