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A study published in Lancet Psychiatry found that in people with untreated major depression, three areas of the brain associated with depression experienced high markers of inflammation. Specifically the prefrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula, are affected according to Medscape.

To conduct the study, researchers used PET scans in order to track the volume and distribution of a brain protein called the translocator protein or TSPO. Translocator protein is a marker of what is called “microglial inflammation”. Inflammation in the brain is problematic and lead to ongoing health issues in mind and body. Areas of the brain like the prefrontal cortex should not be inflamed long term. The prefrontal cortex houses cognition where all of the major motor function operations which gets us through the day live.

Researchers found that participants who had untreated depression which extended longer than ten years had a higher distribution volume of TSPO- 30% higher. Participants who had shorter term depression had significantly less distribution volume of TSPO. Some participants had long term depression, but their depression was actively treated. These participants also saw higher distribution volumes of TSPO.

Depression is progressive

The study investigator spoke to Medscape, “We need to think of major depressive disorder being progressive in the brain- just like it’s progressive in terms of the symptoms.” Depression is and can be a passing phase of life. For example, depression is one of the phases in the cycle of grief. However, something like major depressive disorder is not passing and is progressive. Depression can find remission. Many studies have found that people can enter a stage of remission by participating in activities like yoga, mindfulness, and meditation. Without treatment, the symptoms of depression can progress, putting stress on the brain as well as the body.

Could anti-inflammatories be an answer?

Researchers could not conclude that inflammation is causative to depression progressing, therefore they cannot say that anti-inflammatories could be an answer. However, the study does open the field to other researchers who would want to investigate the potential of anti-inflammatories specifically designed to target these areas of the brain and reduce symptoms of depression.

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