8.1% of people in the United States over the age of 20 have depression during any given 2-week period according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For many patients with depression, it is not a one-time occurrence. It is a condition that lingers for many years and has the potential to affect lifestyle and quality of life. The prevalence and longevity of this mental illness prompted Dr. Jeff Meyer, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Ontario, Canada, to investigate further the implications that it has to the physical architecture of the brain. His research group included 80 people between the ages of 18-75, 25 of which had lived with depression for over ten years, 25 for less than a decade, and the rest were the control group, who were depression free.
While conducting this study, Dr. Jeff Meyer and his assisting scientists noticed that during episodes of major depression, people’s brains would show markers of inflammation. They wanted to explore the severity of this inflammation, and if it worsened over time for people with long-lasting depression. They used a brain scan known as positron emission tomography (PET) to monitor the activity of microglia, a type of cell found in the nervous system that is associated with the inflammatory response to injury. The team found that the concentration of active microglia produces translocator protein (TSPO), the marker of inflammation, was 29-33% higher in the brains of those who lived with depression for over a decade. These markers were seen primarily in the prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula.
These findings were consistent with previous findings; they also demonstrated, like previous findings, that the brains of those patients who lived with untreated depression for short periods of time had higher concentrations of TSPO than the brains of those healthy people in the control group. This calls for the progression and formulation for more potential focused studies. It provides direction and opportunities for other scientists to build off of, and continue to deepen their understanding of major depressive disorder.
Dr. Jeff Meyer himself has made the conjecture that “If depression, although not a neurodegenerative disease, is similar to such conditions — that is, characterized by an increasingly serious inflammatory response in the brain — then it may be adequate to treat it with anti-inflammatory drugs.” He thinks that further studies should examine the possibility of using these types of medication as a therapy for depression. It is exciting to see how this study will continue to influence the sphere of psychology and psychiatry and inspire new studies and research questions to come.