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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 00:55 GMT
Scans reveal depression may return
Brain scan
The scans highlighted areas of reduced activity
Even patients who have recovered from severe depression have signs of the disease which show up on brain scans, say scientists.

A US study found distinct differences between the way certain regions of their brains reacted to emotional stress and painful memories when compared with apparently healthy volunteers.

They shared these differences with other women suffering from active depression at the time.

The finding could help doctors come up with ways to test people and work out their risk of developing depression in the future.

Several previous studies have suggested that certain areas of the brain, called the subgenual cingulate and medial frontal cortex are linked to depression.

The researchers, from the University of Texas Health Science Center, looked at 10 women who had recovered from major depression, but most of whom were still on medication.

They were compared with seven women suffering from active depression, and a healthy group of eight women.

Sad times

All were asked - under controlled circumstances - to recall an episode of extreme sadness in their lives, such as a bereavement.

Their brains were scanned at the same time using a machine that could calculate the amount of blood flow in any particular area.

The healthy volunteers all experienced increases in activity in the subgenual cingulate - but neither the formerly depressed, or the actively depressed women did so.

There were other unusual decreases in activity in both groups in the medial frontal cortex.

Dr Mario Liotti, one of the researchers, is now based at the University of Aberdeen.

Depressed look

He told BBC News Online: "What we are seeing is a snapshot of an acute depression relapse.

"It may show a change in the brain associated with depression even if you are not actually depressed at that time."

He said that it could one day help people who have a strong family history of depression, but have not yet developed the illness and want to find out if they are at risk.

He said: "The evidence is now that depression is a disease caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors."

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

See also:

26 Mar 02 | Health
25 Mar 02 | Health
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