Research carried out at the Brain Mapping Unit may result in more effective treatment of depression, paving the way to a personalised approach in the future.
Depression, a condition experienced by millions of people round the world, has been described by the World Health Authority as an escalating epidemic, likely to become the second leading cause of death by 2020.
Many drugs exist for the treatment of depression. However, how individuals respond to antidepressant drugs is difficult to judge. A new study, in the journal Biological Psychiatry, shows that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help to predict how effective various treatments are likely to be.
Led by Ed Bullmore, Professor of Psychiatry at Cambridge, the research drew on the work of scientists at Cambridge, King's College London and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Italy. Professor Bullmore is head of the Brain Mapping Unit at the Department of Psychiatry and head of GSK's Clinical Unit at Addenbrooke's Hospital.
The researchers measured the structure and functioning of the brains of depressed patients, using MRI, before, during and after they received antidepressant treatment. They also used functional MRI scans to record brain activity while patients were presented with pictures of sad faces.
The study showed that greater grey matter volume in certain areas of the brain predicted more rapid and complete improvement during treatment with antidepressants. Greater activity in the front of the brain prior to treatment also predicted clinical improvement.
Professor Bullmore explained, “This study shows that the rate of symptom improvement in depressed patients treated with antidepressant drugs can be predicted by brain scanning before treatment begins. The results add new evidence in favour of the view that we may be able in future to personalise treatment for depressed patients.”
Other Cambridge authors of the study are Chi-Hua Chen, Khanum Ridler and John Suckling, all of whom work at the Brain Mapping Unit.
Professor Bullmore was responsible for setting up the Brain Mapping Unit in 1999. It carries out pioneering work in brain scanning techniques to measure the structure and function of the human brain. He is particularly interested in schizophrenia and other neuro-developmental disorders, and believes that the future looks “generally bright” for our fundamental scientific understanding of psychiatric problems.
Professor Bullmore is also co-director of CAMEO, a NHS service dedicated to delivering the best possible mental health care to people who have early symptoms of psychosis.
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