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People who have been diagnosed with depression have abnormal brain scans, in that different areas of their brains show abnormal connectivity, according to a new study from University of California in Los Angeles.

Dr. Andrew Leuchter and his colleagues performed brain scans on 121 adults diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, and tested the synchronization of electrical symbols from their brains and brain waves.

"The area of the brain that show the greatest degree of abnormal connections was the pre-frontal cortex, which is heavily involved in regulating mood and solving problems," said Dr. Leuchter, a professor of psychiatry. "When brain systems lose their flexibility in controlling connections, they may not be able to adapt to change."

Dr. Leuchter explained that the brain must be able to regulate connections in order to function in a normal way. People with depression maintain the ability to brain connections and become unable to turn off these connections.

"The inability to control how brain areas work together may help explain some of the symptoms in depression," the author said. "The brain must be able to first synchronized and later de-synchronize different areas in order to react, regulate mood, and learn and solve problems."

It is unclear if depression causes problems in the brain’s connectivity, or vice versa.

Previous studies have indicated that people can inherit a vulnerability to depressive disorders. Using research involving identical twins, scientists estimate that people who have a biological parent diagnosed with depression are 1.5 to three times more likely to have it themselves. There is probably no such thing as a single "depression" gene — it is more likely that a certain cluster of genes predispose people to depression, which needs to be triggered through environmental factors.

This study appears in the journal Public Library of Science One.


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