Recent research suggests that white matter brain abnormalities in some patients with depression disorders are very similar to abnormalities found in patients who have sustained a concussion. According to a University of Pittsburgh news release, the university’s School of Medicine researchers presented the findings during the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

The release notes that the researchers also studied anxiety in concussion patients who underwent imaging. The researchers report that determining these white-matter injuries may also assist in helping guide treatment in patients who sustain such symptoms, whether they have resulted from trauma or not.

Saeed Fakhran, MD, assistant professor of radiology at Pitt, and his team sought to determine if a trauma to the brain could be found in imaging as an underlying cause of depression or anxiety in certain patients.

Fakhran explains that the team “wanted to see if there were commonalities shared by patients with depression and anxiety disorders caused by brain trauma and those with non-traumatic depression.”

During the study, the release notes that Fakhran and his team investigated MRI scans performed in 74 concussion patients from 2006 to 2014 using diffusion tensor imaging. In patients with depression, researchers reportedly found injured regions in the reward circuit of the brain, which has also been found to be abnormal in patients with non-traumatic major depressive disorder. Greater injury to the reward center of the brain was linked to a longer recovery time, similar to patients with non-traumatic major depressive disorder, the release says.

Fakhran suggests that finding such similar images in mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) patients with depression and major depressive disorder may indicate a common pathophysiology in both traumatic and non-traumatic depression, which may in turn guide treatment.

“The first step in developing a treatment for any disease is understanding what causes it, and if we can prove a link, or even a common pathway, between post-traumatic depression and depression in the general population it could potentially lead to effective treatment strategies for both diseases,” Fakhran says.

The release adds that while continuing research is key, the researchers acknowledge that their study was limited by its retrospective nature and moderate sample size. The researchers’ findings also did not include irritability, which was the third neuropsychiatric symptom they set out to study. This caused them to determine that not all such post-concussion/mTBI symptoms appear to result in discrete white matter injuries. It also was difficult to determine, they add in the release, if pre-existing brain abnormalities rendered certain patients more susceptible to depression or anxiety.

Source: Medical News Today, University of Pittsburgh