Why are people who recover from major depression never really out of the woods?

Recovering from a major depression is only half the battle. Staying well and avoiding a recurrence can be an even tougher challenge.

Now a new study, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, has identified an apparent 'depression trait marker' in the brain that may explain why recovered patients remain vulnerable to another depressive episode. The finding could have important implications for developing more targeted treatments that help patients stay well longer AND identifying family members at risk before they have even experienced a major depression.

Co-investigators Drs. Mario Liotti and Helen Mayberg conducted the study at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Dr. Liotti now works within the Department of Psychology, at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and Dr. Mayberg works within The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto.

"We know that depressed patients, even after they've become well, have a tendency to remain highly sensitive to emotional stress," says Dr. Mayberg, who also holds the Sandra A. Rotman Chair in Neuropsychiatry at the University of Toronto and Baycrest Centre. Related research has shown that this emotional sensitivity may be a risk factor for depression recurrence. "This phenomenon is seen in recovered patients -- whether they're on maintenance medication or not, there remains a persistent vulnerability for further episodes. Now we've found a clue using brain imaging that may point to a depression trait marker that underlies this vulnerability."

This 'depression trait marker' involves two brain regions: the subgenual cingulate and the medial frontal cortex. These brain regions are located in a band that runs deep within the frontal lobes, down the midline. The subgenual cingulate is an area previously identified as critical to the acute experience of intense sadness in healthy volunteers as well as a target of anti-d

Contact: Kelly Connelly

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