NEW YORK, While comparing the brains of people at high and low risk for depression based on their family history, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found a physical difference in their brains that may function as a biomarker for the disorder.
A network of brain regions called the default mode network, or DMN, was found in a study to have stronger connections in people with high risk of depression as compared to those with lower risk.
The DMN system is more active when people are thinking deeply about something, and shown to have increased connections in people with major depressive disorder, or MDD. By studying the brain regions in people at varying levels of risk for depression, researchers said they could see what potential patients brains look like before they have MDD.
Using MRI scans, the researchers indexed the brains of 111 people at varying risk for depression who were part of a three-generation study of depression in families. They found a greater number of connections in the DMN for participants at higher risk for MDD based on previous generations of family in the study.
“These findings suggest that looking at activity in the DMN may offer an objective method of identifying people who are at risk of developing major depression,” said Dr. Myrna Weissman, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center, in a press release. “This may represent a another way toward advancing prevention and early intervention for this major public health issue.”
The researchers said that, in addition to the finding possibly making it easier to identify depression before it manifests in patients, it may also guide more effective treatment for the condition.
“If this insight proves correct,” said Dr. Jonathan Posner, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, “behavioral interventions that improve the functioning of the DMN, such as meditation and mindfulness, could be used to address a brain-based problem (increased DMN connections), before it leads to a depressive illness.”