New research at Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis shows that the amygdala region of the brain works differently in preschoolers with depression as compared to kids without depression. In the study, the depressed preschoolers had an elevated activity in the amygdala, an almond-shaped cluster of neurons important in processing emotions. While earlier brain scans have showed similar patterns in adults and adolescents, this was the first to look at preschoolers.
“The findings really hammer home that these kids are suffering from a very real disorder that requires treatment,” said lead author Michael S. Gaffrey, PhD. in a press release issued by the university. “We believe this study demonstrates that there are differences in the brains of these very young children and that they may mark the beginnings of a lifelong problem.”
That statement is consistent with another study by the Washington University in St. Louis that showed that preschoolers with depression had a four times greater likelihood of major depressive disorder one or two years later than preschoolers who didn’t have depression.
In the more recent study, the children were told to look at pictures of people with different facial expressions (happy, sad, fearful, or neutral). The brain scans of the depressed children showed elevated activity of the amygdala no matter what facial expression was viewed as compared to the non-depressed children.
“Not only did we find elevated amygdala activity during face viewing in children with depression, but that greater activity in the amygdala also was associated with parents reporting more sadness and emotion regulation difficulties in their children,” Gaffrey said. “Taken together, that suggests we may be seeing an exaggeration of a normal developmental response in the brain and that, hopefully, with proper prevention or treatment, we may be able to get these kids back on track.”
Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.
Image credit: Washington University School of Medicine