London: Researchers at Duke University made a map of activity in the brains of mice, and found that some patterns were associated with depression. The latest development may help scientists predict depression by examining the way that different parts of the brain talk to each other, a new research suggests.
Currently, depression is mostly diagnosed based on subjective questions and, in some cases, blood tests for thyroid conditions that may cause some cases of the mood disorder. If their 'map' of brain activity translates to humans, the researchers believe their findings could one day be used to diagnose and even prevent depression, according to Daily Mail.
For more than 30 years, scientists and doctors have watched and compared activities in various regions of the brains of both people who seem to be more susceptible to depressive symptoms and those who appear more resilient in the face of stressors.
But by using methods of monitoring how different parts of the brain are working in sync developed in the last decade, researchers like Duke's Dr Kafui Dziarasa and Dr Miguel Nicolelis have come a step closer to a full picture of how the brains of people struggling with different mental illnesses behave.
"You can think of different brain regions as individual instruments in an orchestra," Dzirasa said. "We are interested in not just what each instrument is doing, but how the instruments coordinate themselves to generate music."
To simulate depression in the mice they studied, they had each animal in there study spend 10 days living with a bigger, more aggressive mouse. The stress resulted in symptoms not unlike the behaviors of depressed humans in some – but not all – of the mice. This was key to the experiment, as the researchers wanted to see what distinguished the brains of mice (and eventually people) that could handle the stress and those that could not.
In order to understand this, they monitored the electrical activity – the language different parts of the brain speak to one another – of seven different regions. This allowed the team of scientists to map the 'music' each brain was playing, and how what distinguished a depressed tune from a more resilient one.
They found clear differences between the activity patterns in the mice that handled the stress well and those that suffered the way someone prone to depression might. Depression is difficult to treat, and many people may struggle against the mood disorder for decades.
One of the most effective – but dangerous – treatments for it has been electroconvulsive, or 'shock,' therapy, which works because the sort of seizure it causes seems to quickly rewire the brain, resetting the chemical imbalance seen in those with depression.
Despite measures to make it safer, the procedure is still stigmatized and carries risks that it could damage the brain and cause serious heart problems. But, with a more complete understanding of the electoral activity in the brains of depressed people, "It might be possible to target electricity to the right place in the right way to create a treatment that doesn't have the same side-effects as putting electricity everywhere," said Dr. Dzirasa.
A mental map of a depressed brain could also help reconcile psychological and physical components of depression and lead to more comprehensive and effective preventative measures and treatments.
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