Depression may affect the brains of men and women very differently

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A new study of teenagers suggests depression may affect the brains of men and women very differently, potentially opening the door to more targeted and effective treatments.

Past research has shown there are clear discrepancies in how depression presents itself in the two sexes, with girls being more than twice as likely to experience depression compared to men. Based on this information, Dr. Jie-Yu Chuang from the University of Cambridge in the UK set out to understand the differences between depressed boys and girls.

“Men are more liable to suffer from persistent depression, whereas in women depression tends to be more episodic,” Jie-Yu Chuang, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, said in a press release. “Compared with women, depressed men are also more likely to suffer serious consequences from their depression, such as substance abuse and suicide.”

For the study published in Frontiers of Psychiatry, the researchers showed a group of adolescents between 11 and 18-years-old a series to happy or sad words while scanning their brains to see how the brain responded to these words.

The group of participants included 82 female and 24 male patients with clinical depression, as well as a group of 24 female and 10 male participants with no reported mental health issues.

The brain scans showed that male and female participants’ brains were differently affected by the tests. The response of the supramarginal gyrus and posterior cingulate cortex areas of the brain varied between men and women affected by depression. Both of these areas have already been tied to depression in past studies.

The findings don’t fully explain the discrepancies, and will likely be criticized for using significantly different sized groups of men and women. Still, the researchers say the findings may lead to future treatments designed specifically to treat depression in men or women.

“Our finding suggests that early in adolescence, depression might affect the brain differently between boys and girls,” Chuang said. “Sex-specific treatment and prevention strategies for depression should be considered early in adolescence. Hopefully, these early interventions could alter the disease trajectory before things get worse.”

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