Lifestyle Health and Wellbeing 22 Jul 2017 Depression may chang ...

Depression may change brain structure

Published Jul 22, 2017, 2:42 pm IST
Updated Jul 22, 2017, 2:42 pm IST
According to study, white matter, which enables brain to communicate, is reduced in people who suffer from the blues.
Depression is the world's leading cause of disability (Photo: Pixabay)
 Depression is the world's leading cause of disability (Photo: Pixabay)

Washington DC: Got the blues? According to a recent study, depression can change the structure of your brain.

Alterations were found in parts of the brain known as white matter, which contains fibre tracts that enable brain cells to communicate with one another by electrical signals.


White matter is a key component of the brain's wiring and its disruption has been linked to problems with emotion processing and thinking skills.

The study of more than 3,000 people, the largest of its type to date, sheds light on the biology of depression and could help in the search for better diagnosis and treatment.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow used a cutting-edge technique known as diffusion tensor imaging to map the structure of white matter.

A quality of the matter, known as white matter integrity, was reduced in people who reported symptoms indicative of depression. The same changes were not seen in people who were unaffected.

Depression is the world's leading cause of disability, affecting around a fifth of UK adults over a lifetime. Symptoms include low mood, exhaustion and feelings of emptiness.

Experts say the large number of people included in the sample - 3461 - means that the study findings are very robust.

Participants were drawn from UK Biobank, a national research resource with health data available from 500,000 volunteers.

The study forms part of a Wellcome Trust initiative called Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally (STRADL), which aims to classify subtypes of depression and identify risk factors.

Senior researcher Heather Whalley said that this study uses data from the largest single sample published to date and shows that people with depression have changes in the white matter wiring of their brain.

Whalley noted, "There is an urgent need to provide treatment for depression and an improved understanding of it mechanisms will give us a better chance of developing new and more effective methods of treatment. Our next steps will be to look at how the absence of changes in the brain relates to better protection from distress and low mood."

The work is published in Scientific Reports.