Changes in depression symptoms may not have a major impact on brain health in middle age

Changes in depression symptoms may not have a major impact on brain health in middle age

Changes in depression symptoms may not have a major impact on brain health in middle age

Long-term fluctuations in depressive symptoms are not associated with other markers of brain health in middle age, according to new research published in the journal Journal of Psychiatric Research. The findings suggest that the link between depressive symptom trajectories and brain health may not emerge until late in life.

“As psychiatric epidemiologists, our goal is to improve our understanding of the development, determinants and consequences of psychiatric phenotypes such as depressive symptoms,” said study authors Annemarie Luik and Isabel Schuurmans from Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam.

“With this study, we wanted to unravel how depressive symptoms develop over time and how these symptom trajectories are related to subsequent brain health. This information could, in turn, help develop interventions and therapies that promote brain health in people with depression.”

For their study, the researchers analyzed data from 1,676 participants in the ORACLE (Origins of Alzheimer’s Disease Across the Life Course) study, which conducted further assessments of pregnant women and their partners with a due date between April 2002 and January 2006 .

Mothers and their partners assessed their depressive symptoms mid-pregnancy, three years postpartum, ten years postpartum and during brain scan sessions. Neuroimaging scans were taken 15 years after birth, when the participants were on average about 47 years old.

“In this study, we identified weak or no associations between depressive symptom trajectories and midlife brain health,” the researchers told PsyPost. They analyzed markers of brain health such as gray and white matter volume, white matter changes, brain microbleeds and subcortical structures.

“This finding contrasted with a study that focused instead on late age, which found links between depression symptom trajectories and brain health. Therefore, the take-away conclusion would be that changes in depressive symptoms may not have a major impact on brain health in middle age, but this association may not become apparent until later in life.”

Luik and Schuurmans also drew attention to a discovery that was particularly surprising.

“We found that participants with low but increasing depressive symptoms over time had more cortical thickening in a small area of ​​the brain in the lateral occipital cortex,” they explained. “This finding was unexpected because, unlike previous literature on depression, we found greater rather than less cortical thickness.”

“In addition, the region was involved in responding to visual shape information and object processing, which is not a typical feature of a depression. Together, this may suggest that visual processing is increased in people with more depressive symptoms, but more research needs to be done to ensure that this finding was not a chance finding.”

The study, like all studies, has some caveats.

“The first measurement of depressive symptoms took place when our participants were expecting a baby. While pregnancy is generally considered a positive life event, women also experience poorer physical health and more depressive symptoms during this period, said Luik and Schuurmans.

“It is therefore possible that the measurement of depressive symptoms during this period was more severe due to pregnancy. More research is needed to understand whether depressive symptoms during pregnancy have a different effect on brain health than depressive symptoms at other times in life.”

The authors of the study “10-Year Trajectories of Depressive Symptoms and Later Brain Health in Middle-Aged Adults” are Isabel K. Schuurmans, Sander Lamballais, Runyu Zou, Ryan L. Muetzel, Manon HJ Hillegers, Charlotte AM Cecil, and Annemarie I. Luik.

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