New findings indicate that mood and anxiety disorders show common abnormalities in the activity of brain regions involved in the generation and control of feelings and emotional thoughts. Targeting these common abnormalities could potentially reduce the risk of these disorders in the general population and improve outcomes in clinical populations.
Dr. Sophia Frangou, UBC President’s Excellence Chair in Brain Health and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, published a major paper in JAMA Psychiatry on October 30, 2019 which sheds new light on the persistence of negative mood states in patients with mood and anxiety disorders.
Her findings from the analysis of over 9,000 brain scans show that abnormalities in brain function across these disorders are localized to the same areas of the brain. In the patients, there was one cluster of brain regions, including the inferior prefrontal and parietal cortex, the insula, and the putamen, which showed abnormally reduced activity (hypo-activation). According to neuroscientists, these regions are critical for stopping ongoing mental activities and switching to new ones. Interestingly, another cluster showed abnormally increased activity, and these regions of hyper-activation involved the anterior cingulate cortex, the left amygdala and the thalamus, which work together to process emotional thoughts and feelings. Dr. Frangou says, ”These brain imaging findings provide a science-based explanation as to why patients with mood and anxiety disorders seem to be ‘locked in’ to negative mood states; they also corroborate the patients’ experience of being unable to stop and switch away from negative thoughts and feelings.”
Dr. Frangou’s team is now working in two complementary directions. They are analyzing large multisite datasets in children and adolescents in order to trace the evolution of abnormal functional activity and test whether such information may help in the prediction or very early identification of these disorders. This is in parallel with their development of tools to personalize these findings for individual patients and test whether interventions such as noninvasive brain stimulation targeting these brain regions studied can enhance treatment success.
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