A little over 3,400 people show that depression messes up the brain’s white matter, interfering with the way we process thoughts and emotions.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, UK, have joined forces – and brains – to confirm a theory that has been circulating for years now: that depression has a clear and direct impact on the functionality of the brain. The connection between depression and the damage of white matter closes a vicious circle that one can enter once experiencing the symptoms associated with the condition.

Studying this connection, the research team has enrolled in the experiment 3,461 adults, drawn from UK Biobank, a national research resource. Observation of the brain was made through a new technique called diffusion tensor imaging. With it, scientists were able to map the structure of the white matter, crossing two variables: white matter integrity versus depression symptoms.


Diffusion tensor imaging shows depression affects the integrity of the brain’s white matter.
Image: Scientific Reports


In conclusion, they have noticed that white matter integrity was more compromised in people dealing with depression symptoms. It is not mentioned that they were necessarily diagnosed with the condition.

Senior Researcher Dr. Heather Whalley, from the University of Edinburgh confirmed: “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.” She added that understanding more on the mechanisms behind depression give better chances to people dealing with the condition to receive more efficient treatment. “There is an urgent need to provide treatment for depression”, Dr. Whalley said.

Depression-related reports show alarming figures. Over 300 million people suffer from symptoms related to it, worldwide. It is the No.1 cause of disability and the No.2 cause of death for teenagers and young adults (ages 15 to 29).

The brain’s white matter is part of the central nervous system and it modulates the communication between different brain regions. It is under continuous development until middle age and its health is crucial in passing messages quickly.


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