A new brain imaging study from MIT and Harvard Medical School may lead to a screen that could identify children at high risk of developing depression later in life. In the study, the researchers found distinctive brain differences in children known to be at high risk because of family history of major depression. The finding suggests that this type of scan could be used to identify children whose risk was previously unknown, allowing them to undergo treatment before developing depression, says John Gabrieli, Ph.D., the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology and a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. “We’d like to develop the tools to be able to identify people at true risk, independent of why they got there, with the ultimate goal of maybe intervening early and not waiting for depression to strike the person,” says Dr. Gabrieli, an author of the study, which was published online on December 16, 2015 in Biological Psychiatry. The article is titled “Altered Intrinsic Functional Brain Architecture in Children at Familial Risk of Major Depression.” Early intervention is important because once a person suffers from an episode of depression, they become more likely to have another. “If you can avoid that first bout, maybe it would put the person on a different trajectory,” says Dr. Gabrieli, who is a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. The paper’s lead author is McGovern Institute postdoc Xiaoqian Chai, Ph.D., and the senior author is Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli, Ph.D., a research scientist at the McGovern Institute. The study also helps to answer a key question about the brain structures of depressed patients.
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