A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago finds that young adults with a past history of mental illness have “hyper-connected” emotional and cognitive networks in their brains.
Researchers say the networks may “talk to each other a little too much,” and result in rumination, a risk factor for depression.
The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in order to be able to see evidence of brain connectivity of thirty study participants ages 18 to 23 while they were in a resting state. The participants had experienced depression previously and their MRIs were compared against 23 participants who did not have a history of depression.
The MRI imaging showed many brain regions that are hyper-connected among those in the study with a history of depression. Those brain networks were related to rumination, when individuals think about a problem over and over without actively trying to come up with a solution.
“Rumination is not a very healthy way of processing emotion,” said Scott Langenecker, Ph.D, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an author of the study.
“Rumination is a risk factor for depression and for reoccurrence of depression if you’ve had it in the past.”
The researchers also looked at cognitive control (the ability to engage and disengage in thought processes or behaviors), which is a predictor of response to treatment and relapsing. “As rumination goes up, cognitive control goes down,” said Langenecker.
The researchers will follow all of the young adults over time to see whether or not these hyper-connectivities predict who will or won’t have a recurrence of their illness. Follow up is important, say the researchers, because the transition to adulthood may be a critical point for interventions in young adults who have dealt with depression.
“We think that depression is a developmental outcome, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that people need to become depressed,” Langenecker said. “If we can provide prevention and treatment to those people that are most at risk, we might be able to prevent depression, reduce the number of depressive episodes, or reduce their severity.”
The study was published in PLOSOne.