Updated 28 August 2014

Young adults who had depression have 'hyper-connected' brains

This new finding may aid understanding of depression and possibly lead to new ways of predicting and preventing the mental illness.


Young adults who struggled with depression in adolescence appear to have "hyper-connected" networks in their brain, researchers are reporting.

The findings might improve understanding of depression and could lead to new ways to predict, prevent and treat the illness, according to the University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

The researchers conducted brain scans on 30 volunteers, ages 18 to 23, who had depression in their teen years, and a control group of 23 young adults who never had depression.

Many regions of the brains in those with a history of depression were hyper-connected, which means they "communicate" with each other a bit too much. This hyper-connectivity was related to rumination, in which a person constantly thinks about a problem without actively attempting to find a solution.

"Rumination is not a very healthy way of processing emotion," study corresponding author Scott Langenecker, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology, said in a university news release. "Rumination is a risk factor for depression and for reoccurrence of depression if you've had it in the past."

Read: Risk factors of depression

The study was published online Aug. 27 in the journal PLoS One.

The researchers plan to follow the participants to determine if having hyper-connected brain networks predicts a recurrence of depression.

"If we can help youth learn how to shift out of maladaptive strategies, such as rumination, this may protect them from developing chronic depression and help them stay well as adults," study lead author Rachel Jacobs, a research assistant professor of psychiatry at UIC's Institute for Juvenile Research, said in the news release.

Added Langenecker, "We think that depression is a developmental outcome, and it's not a foregone conclusion that people need to become depressed. If we can provide prevention and treatment to those people that are most at risk, we might be able to prevent depression, reduce the number of depressive episodes, or reduce their severity."

Read more:
Symptoms of depression
Causes of depression
Diagnosing depression

Image: 3d rendered illustration - active brain from Shutterstock

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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