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Brain Scans of Newborns Could Be Used to Detect Early Signs of Depression, Anxiety

Feb 02, 2017 07:17 AM EST
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A new study from Washington State University's School of Medicine in St. Louis revealed that brain scans of newborn babies may offer clues whether the baby would develop symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety disorder later in life.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, showed that the strength and pattern of connections between certain regions of the brain could be used to predict the likelihood of a child developing excessive sadness, shyness, nervousness or separation anxiety by the age of two.

"The fact that we could see these connectivity patterns in the brain at birth helps answer a critical question about whether they could be responsible for early symptoms linked to depression and anxiety or whether these symptoms lead to changes in the brain," said Cynthia Rogers, MD, an assistant professor of child psychiatry at Washington State and lead author of the study, in a statement. "We have found that already at birth, brain connections may be responsible for the development of problems later in life."

For the study, the researchers conducted functional MRI scans in 65 full-term newborns. The researchers also performed functional MRI scans to 57 babies born prematurely on or near their due dates, at least 10 weeks before their due dates.

The researchers found that the strength of the connection between the amygdala and other brain regions are lesser in premature babies compared to those babies born at full-term. Interestingly, the connection pattern between the amygdala and insula and medial prefrontal cortex appear to increase the risk of early symptoms associated to depression and anxiety. Insula is the region of the brain involved in consciousness and emotion, while the medial prefrontal cortex plays a role in planning and decision making.

At the follw-up assessment two years later, the researchers observed a correlation between the severity of early depression and anxiety symptoms and the patterns they saw in the brains of the baby in both the full-term and premature groups.

The next step for the researchers is to take another peek at the brain of the participants when they are older. By doing so, the researchers can determine whether the two groups still have many of the same differences in their brain connectivity and how it relates to whether they have symptoms of psychiatric disorders.

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