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Brain Circuits Behind Mood and Anxiety Disorders
The largest brain imaging study of its type may have discovered why people suffering from anxiety and mood problems frequently feel unable to escape unwanted thoughts and feelings.
Researchers examined over 9,000 brain scans from 226 prior functional imaging studies that compared the brain activity of healthy persons to those with mood or anxiety disorders.
The inferior prefrontal and parietal cortex, the insula, and the putamen, which form a brain circuit that mediates control over thoughts and emotions, were among the brain areas with exceptionally low activity. One of the brain areas that showed hyperactivity was the left amygdala, which is essential in the fight or flight response.
Taken together, these findings indicate that people suffering from anxiety and mood disorders have brains that are trapped in an unpleasant hotbox: on one side, their brains struggle to manage emotionally charged ideas, while on the other, they are prone to rumination and negative sensations.
The research includes major depressive illness, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and numerous anxiety disorders as mood and anxiety disorders. In any given year, one in every five persons in the United States, or nearly 50 million people, suffers from one of these illnesses.
The researchers pointed out that the study purposefully omitted brain imaging from children and older individuals, so it’s unclear how the findings would apply to other age groups.
And, because brain scan interpretation is mostly based on correlation, the results do not establish cause and effect, nor do they solve the “chicken and egg” concerns of whether brain disorders exist prior to, or as a result of, other factors such as behavioral and environmental impacts.
Future studies, according to the researchers, will look at ways to focus on the brain circuits highlighted in the findings, perhaps utilizing interventions such as neurostimulation and tailored therapy.