Penn Medicine researchers have established a link between childhood trauma and abnormal brain connectivity in patients with clinical depression in a recently published study. This is the first data-based study to link changes in brain function to specific symptoms of clinical depression, according to Penn Med News.
Penn Med professor Yvette Sheline directed the study, which was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences on April 8th. Sheline, who is also director of the Center for Neuromodulation in Depression and Stress, worked with other researchers on the analysis of brain function in patients with and without clinical depression.
The study was conducted by comparing brain activity in 189 patients with clinical depression with 39 patients without depression. Meichen Yu, a postdoctoral researcher, then analyzed the clinical symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicide, which were measured through 213 survey questions.
Patients with clinical depression were not selected on the basis of a history of trauma. Brain imaging, however, identified abnormal functional connectivity in those with trauma, although their traumas were not recent.
Clinical depression is a disorder of the mood that causes persistent feelings of sadness and apathy. Also called major depressive disorder, it affects many aspects of a person's life and can lead to suicide. Research has shown that depression is present in at least 50% of all suicides. Many studies examine the potential causes of clinical depression, however the neurobiological mechanisms associated with it are largely unknown.
In other studies, Penn Med researchers have linked early trauma to depression later in life, but this recent study found the way in which the trauma resulted in specific neurobiological symptoms and suggests a possible environmental cause for these symptoms.
Sheline highlighted the importance of studying trauma in relation to brain development and clinical depression. He said he hopes the study will help establish biological indicators for clinical depression and allow a more targeted diagnosis of the disease.
"With an estimated 10 percent of all children in the United States who have been the subject of pedophilia, the importance of child maltreatment on brain development and function is an important consideration," she told Penn Med News.
The study also included co-authors from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Mass General Hospital, the University of Texas and Columbia University.