IMAGE SOURCE: Columbia University Medical Center, 2009/ Left MRI of a person a high risk of depression, see loss in right lateral cortex
In one of the largest imaging studies on whether depression runs in families - researchers find that a thinning in the right hemisphere of the brain appears to be linked to a risk of depression.
The results from Columbia University Medical Center are to be published online just as the suicide of the son of the poet Sylvia Plath, who also committed suicide, has people wondering whether the tendency toward suicide runs in families.
Researchers say the tendency in high-risk families may have more to do with brain matter.
U.S. researchers find those with less brain matter on the right side of their brains or a thinning in the right cortex is found in families with a history of depression and was on a par with losses seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
"The difference was so great that at first we almost didn't believe it. But we checked and re-checked all of our data, and we looked for all possible alternative explanations, and still the difference was there," said Dr. Bradley Peterson of Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute to Reuters.
The study is published in the upcoming online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Those at high risk of depression had a measurable 28 percent thinning of the right cortex, the outer surface of the brain.
In the study, 131 people with and without a family history of depression had the thickness of the cortex measured by imaging of the brain. Participants ranged in age from six to 54.
Researchers were looking for brain abnormalities that might explain why a family is predisposed to depression, when they found the thinning on the right side.
When those individuals were put through tests for memory and attention, those with the thinning right cortex performed the worst. Dr. Peterson says the thinner cortex may interrupt a person’s ability to interpret social and emotional cues from others.
The findings leave open the question as to whether they represent a cause of or a correlation to depression.
But the suggestion is that if a thinning cortex impacts social and emotional cues to behavior, there may be a drug based treatment for intervention. People on memory or inattention stimulants, typically used to treat ADHD, may also derive benefit for familial depression.
Participants were pulled from the “Children at High and Low Risk of Depression” study which began 27 years ago at Yale to try and understand families at risk for depression.
Dr. Myrna Weissman has followed these families for more than 25 years and the study now includes three generations of participants. #