People with mood, anxiety disorders share same abnormalities in brain

In a new study, researchers found for the first time that patients with mood and anxiety disorders share the same abnormalities in regions of the brain involved in emotional and cognitive control.

The findings hold promise for the development of new treatments targeting these regions of the brain in patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety disorders.

The research was conducted by a team from the University of British Columbia.

Mood and anxiety disorders account for nearly 65% of psychosocial disability worldwide and represent a major public health challenge.

In Canada, one in three—or approximately 9.1 million people—will be affected by mental illness during their lifetime.

The defining symptoms of these disorders are persistent or recurring negative feelings, mainly depression and anxiety.

For the study, the team analyzed more than 9,000 brain scans from previously published studies that compared the brain activity of healthy adults to those diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder, ranging from major depression to post-traumatic stress disorder.

They found that patients exhibited abnormally low activity in the inferior prefrontal and parietal cortex, the insula and the putamen—regions that are key parts of the brain circuit for emotional and cognitive control and are responsible for stopping ongoing mental activities and switching to new ones.

They also discovered hyperactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the left amygdala and the thalamus, which work together to process emotional thoughts and feelings.

These brain imaging findings provide a science-based explanation as to why patients with mood and anxiety disorders seem to be ‘locked in’ to negative mood states.

They also explain the patients’ experience of being unable to stop and switch away from negative thoughts and feelings.

The study is believed to be the largest analysis of brain scans of patients with mood and anxiety disorders to date.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Sophia Frangou, a psychiatry professor at UBC.

The study is published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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