Depression and anxiety linked to changes in the cerebral cortex

Chinese scientists have found that depression and anxiety are associated with structural changes in the human brain. Scientists will talk about their work at the annual convention of the Radiological Society of North America, which will be held from November 26 to December 1 in Chicago.

Scientists were interested in two conditions: clinical depression (or major depressive disorder, MDD) and social anxiety disorder. Patients with MDD may suddenly lose interest in activities that they once were fond of, experience bouts of apathy, and attempt suicide. In social anxiety disorder, people are intimidated by being watched or discussed, making communication and relationship building difficult.

These disorders have similar symptoms, and the structural changes were expected to be similar as well. The authors of the work used magnetic resonance imaging to track changes in the state of the gray matter of the brain in patients with MDD and anxiety disorder. They focused their attention on the thickness of the cerebral cortex, one of its most important areas.

Doctors studied tomograms of 37 patients with MDD, 24 with anxiety disorder and 41 healthy people. In the first two groups, scientists noticed deviations in the thickness of the cerebral cortex, namely a thickening in the insular region – the part of the cortex responsible for perception and self-awareness. How these indicators are related to the patient’s mental state, scientists cannot yet unambiguously explain. On the one hand, the thickening of the cortex can be caused by an inflammatory process or some other pathological phenomenon, on the other hand, it can be the result of the efforts of the patients themselves to restrain emotions.

In the future, scientists plan to apply machine learning algorithms and develop a method for diagnosing such disorders and predicting their development based on tomograms.

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