AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 3, 2017

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Depression Risk Linked to Neuroplasticity

Building on a 30-year, three-generation study of depressed individuals, their children and offspring, a study published in the journal Psychiatry Research provided a better understanding of the familial risk for depression and the role neuroplasticity plays in increasing the risk of developing depression. The research shows a link between a particular allele for serotonin found at a higher frequency in those at risk of depression due to family history, in addition to those who go on to develop major depressive disorder. Several genes have been associated with depression, especially those genes that alter serotonin signaling. The study found that among those at low risk for depression, the “S” (short) allele is associated with a thinner cortex compared to those with the “L” (long) allele. However, in the individuals at high risk for depression due to family history, the correlation is actually reversed and more cortical thinning is found in those with the “L” allele. In addition, those with the “S” allele were at higher risk of developing depression than those with the “L” allele after exposure to the same type and amount of stressors. “These findings suggest that brain plasticity also plays a role in depression,” said the study’s first author. It could be that those with the “L” allele or genetic variation can better adapt to their environment. Those with the “S” allele appear to have lower brain plasticity and perhaps have fewer compensatory factors in the brain that allow them to adapt to adverse conditions.” The study analyzed the MRIs of 120 individuals, those at both high and low familial risk of depression, along with genotype data. Further scientific studies analyzing cortical thickness, combined with genotyping, could also potentially predict who will develop depression and their response to anti-depressant medications. To read more about this study, click here.

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