Brain study could lead to new understanding of depression

Aug 25, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Brain scientists have moved a step closer to understanding why some people may be more prone to depression than others.

Dr Roland Zahn, a clinical neuroscientist in The University of Manchester’s School of Psychological Sciences, and his colleagues have identified how the brain links knowledge about social behaviour with moral sentiments, such as pride and guilt.

The study, carried out at the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US with Dr Jordan Grafman, chief of the Cognitive Neuroscience Section, and Dr Jorge Moll, now at the LABS-D'Or Center for Neuroscience in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 29 healthy individuals while they considered certain social behaviours.

The findings – published in the journal Cerebral Cortex – for the first time chart the regions of the brain that interact to link knowledge about socially appropriate behaviour with different moral feelings, depending on the context in which the social behaviour occurs.

“During everyday life we constantly evaluate social behaviour and this largely affects how we feel about ourselves and other people,” said Dr Zahn. “But the way we store and use information about our own and other people’s social behaviour are not well understood.

“This latest study used functional brain imaging to identify the circuits in the brain that underpin our ability to differentiate social behaviour that conforms to our values from behaviour that does not.”

The team observed that social behaviour not conforming to an individual’s values evoked feelings of anger when carried out by another person or feelings of guilt when the behaviour stemmed from the individuals themselves.

The fMRI scans of each volunteer could then be analysed to see which parts of the brain were activated for the different types of feeling being expressed. Of particular interest to Dr Zahn were the brain scans relating to feelings of guilt, as these have particular relevance to his current work on depression.

“The most distinctive feature of depressive disorders is an exaggerated negative attitude to oneself, which is typically accompanied by feelings of guilt,” he said.

“Now that we understand how the brains of healthy individuals respond to feelings of guilt, we hope to be able to better understand why and where there are differences in brain activity in people suffering from, or prone to, depression.

“The brain region we have identified to be associated with proneness to guilt has been shown to be abnormally active in patients with severe depression in several previous studies, but until now its involvement in guilt had been unknown."

“By translating these basic cognitive neuroscience insights into clinical research we now have the potential to discover new key functional anatomical characteristics of the brain that may lie behind depressive disorders.

“The results will hopefully make an important contribution to our understanding of the causes of depression that will ultimately allow new approaches to find better treatments and prevention.”

The current clinical study, being carried out with professors Matthew Lambon-Ralph, Bill Deakin and Alistair Burns at The University of Manchester, will last four years.

Provided by University of Manchester

Explore further: US scientists make embryonic stem cells from adult skin

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Study says we're over the hill at 24

(Medical Xpress)—It's a hard pill to swallow, but if you're over 24 years of age you've already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.