Depression, Stress Linked With Brain Shrinkage -- Here's Why

Could Depression Cause Brain Shrinkage?

Depression could be taking a toll on your brain -- literally.

Previous research has shown that chronic stress and major depression may decrease brain volume, and now Yale researchers have found a possible reason for why.

They believe the key lies in a genetic switch called GATA1 (known in science as a transcription factor), which researchers found is responsible for regulating the expression of several genes that are vital to connections in the brain. The researchers suspect that if these brain cell connections aren't properly formed, it could lead to a decrease in brain mass.

In a rodent test, the researchers found that when the GATA1 switch was turned "on," the rodents acted depressed -- leading them to think, too, that this switch may play a role in depressive symptoms.

"We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in humans," study researcher Ronald Duman, a professor in neurobiology, pharmacology and psychiatry at Yale, said in a statement. "We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated."

The researchers conducted their experiment on donated brains from a brain bank of people who had depression and people who didn't have depression. Their work is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Recently, Yale researchers also found that stressful life moments -- like going through a divorce, or being laid off -- can actually shrink brain gray matter in regions tied to emotion and physiological functions, which could potentially be a sign of future psychiatric problems.

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