Nav: Home

Over years, depression changes the brain, new CAMH study shows

February 26, 2018

TORONTO, February 26, 2018 - Is clinical depression always the same illness, or does it change over time?

New brain imaging research from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows that the brain alters after years of persistent depression, suggesting the need to change how we think about depression as it progresses.

The study, led by senior author Dr. Jeff Meyer of CAMH's Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, is published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The research shows that people with longer periods of untreated depression, lasting more than a decade, had significantly more brain inflammation compared to those who had less than 10 years of untreated depression. In an earlier study, Dr. Meyer's team discovered the first definitive evidence of inflammation in the brain in clinical depression.

This study provides the first biological evidence for large brain changes in long-lasting depression, suggesting that it is a different stage of illness that needs different therapeutics - the same perspective taken for early and later stages of Alzheimer's disease, he says.

"Greater inflammation in the brain is a common response with degenerative brain diseases as they progress, such as with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson´s disease," says Dr. Meyer, who also holds Canada Research Chair in the Neurochemistry of Major Depression. While depression is not considered a degenerative brain disease, the change in inflammation shows that, for those in whom depression persists, it may be progressive and not a static condition.

Yet currently, says Dr. Meyer, regardless of how long a person has been ill, major depressive disorder is mainly treated with the same approach. Some people may have a couple of episodes of depression over a few years. Others may have persistent episodes over a decade with worsening symptoms, and increasing difficulty going to work or carrying out routine activities.

Treatment options for this later stage of illness, such as medications targeting inflammation, are being investigated by Dr. Meyer and others. This includes re-purposing current medications designed for inflammation in other illnesses to be used in major depressive disorder.

In the study, brain inflammation was measured using a type of brain imaging called positron emission tomography (PET). The brain's immune cells, known as microglia, are involved in the brain's normal inflammatory response to trauma or injury, but too much inflammation is associated with other degenerative illnesses as well as depression. When microglia are activated, they make more translocator protein (TSPO), a marker of inflammation that can be seen using PET imaging.

The study involved 25 people with more than 10 years of depression, 25 with less than 10 years of illness, and 30 people with no depression as a comparison group. TSPO levels were about 30 per cent higher in different brain regions among those with long-lasting untreated depression, compared to those with shorter periods of untreated depression. The group with long-term depression also had higher TSPO levels than those with no depression.

Dr. Meyer also notes that in treatment studies, patients with serious, longstanding depression tend to be excluded, so there is a lack of evidence of how to treat this stage of illness, which needs to be addressed.
-end-
The joint first authors of the study were post-doctoral fellow Dr. Elaine Setiawan and graduate student Sophia Attwells. This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Brain and Behavior Foundation and the Neuroscience Catalyst Fund.

About CAMH

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.

Media Contact:

Sean O'Malley
Media Relations
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
416-595-6015
Sean.omalley@camh.ca

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Related Depression Articles:

Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or depression?
New research suggests a person's reliance on his or her smartphone predicts greater loneliness and depressive symptoms, as opposed to the other way around.
Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.
CPAP provides relief from depression
Researchers have found that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can improve depression symptoms in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
Post-natal depression in dads linked to depression in their teenage daughters
Fathers as well as mothers can experience post-natal depression -- and it is linked to emotional problems for their teenage daughters, new research has found.
Being overweight likely to cause depression, even without health complications
A largescale genomic analysis has found the strongest evidence yet that being overweight causes depression, even in the absence of other health problems.
Don't let depression keep you from exercising
Exercise may be just as crucial to a depression patient's good health as finding an effective antidepressant.
Having an abortion does not lead to depression
Having an abortion does not increase a woman's risk for depression, according to a new University of Maryland School of Public Health-led study of nearly 400,000 women.
Mother's depression might do the same to her child's IQ
Roughly one in 10 women in the United States will experience depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Teenage depression linked to father's depression
Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new Lancet Psychiatry study led by UCL researchers.
Anxiety and depression linked to migraines
In a study of 588 patients who attended an outpatient headache clinic, more frequent migraines were experienced by participants with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
More Depression News and Depression Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.