St. Louis, Oct. 23, 1998 -- People who suffer from depression have fewer cells in a certain part of the brain, a new study finds. This loss occurs only when the disorder runs in the family, suggesting that inherited depression may differ from depression that comes out of the blue.
"One of the things we hope may result from our findings is the recognition that there are important differences between patients with a familial history of depression and those without," says Joseph L. Price, Ph.D., who headed the research. "There might also be differences in appropriate drug therapies."
Price is a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. His graduate student Dost Öngür is lead author of a paper in the Oct. 27 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The second author, Wayne C. Drevets, M.D., reported in 1997 that positron emission tomography images of people with familial depression showed less activity in a thumbnail-sized area of the brain behind the mid-forehead. This region, the subgenual prefrontal cortex, also was smaller than in healthy people, magnetic resonance images revealed.
"Dost and I wanted to identify the cellular basis for this difference in size," Price explains.
Using samples from the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, Öngür compared the number of cells in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of mentally healthy people with that of people who had suffered from unipolar depression or bipolar disorder, which involves highs as well as lows.
He used a technique called stereology, which samples several parts of a
specimen to accurately estimate the total number of cells. "It's the same idea
as when you conduct an opinion poll by talking to a few thousand representative
people," he says. "In the case of cells, it minimizes the danger of double
counting and other problems people have had in the pa
Contact: Linda Sage
Washington University School of Medicine