Depression that goes untreated is known to take its toll on the lives of those who are afflicted with this mental health disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety, family conflicts and premature death are all considered to be complications of depression. Now, the results of a new study show that these feelings of sadness may also cause brain shrinkage.
Scientists from Yale University set out to discover why depression can reduce people’s brain volume. A genetic switch – or the transcription factor – was found to be the cause of the emotional and cognitive impairment that follows the onset of depression.
To arrive at their findings, which appear in "Nature Medicine," the scientists worked with tissue from depressed and non-depressed patients. As they looked for different patterns of gene activation, they found that the brains of depressed subjects showed low levels of activity in genes that are linked to brain synapses’ function and structure.
"We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in humans," said Ronald Duman, the study’s author. "We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated."
Based on these results, individuals who have a history of depression may want to take an IQ test to see if there have been any changes to their cognitive function.