Researchers have recently found a way to measure neural signals across regions of the brain that decode patterns that represent a person’s current mood. They did this by using the intracranial electrodes already inserted in seven patients who have epileptic seizures. They tracked brain signals across the electrodes and asked the patients to report mood symptoms. From this they developed a decoder that will predict mood variations over time based on brain signals.
Their hope is that from these findings a closed loop system can be developed to treat individuals with depression and anxiety who are treatment resistant to SSRIs, other medications, and standard therapies. This closed loop system would in theory be able to stimulate the appropriate neural regions of the brain needed to affect mood in a positive way in real time.
They think this decoding technology could even be useful for other conditions that are not localized to one area of the brain and are spread out through various regions like depression and anxiety are. Some examples include chronic pain, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
New research shows those with depression have a five percent larger hypothalamus than those who don’t have the illness.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), is the system that responds when we are under stress by releasing cortisol into the body, giving us more energy to react to a challenge, and then returning the body to its natural state when the stressor has been removed.
In those with mental illness, the HPA axis is dysfunctional and releases cortisol even when no real stressor is present due to the over activity of the hypothalamus. It is unclear whether the increased hypothalamus activity is leading to its increased size or not.
Regardless, the larger size could explain the increased levels of cortisol and the periods of tension often experienced by those with depression.
Source: Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. “In depression the brain region for stress control is larger.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 September 2018.
For several years, neuroimaging studies have noted differences in the prefrontal cortex and limbic areas (which includes the hippocampus) of the brains of individuals with bipolar disorder compared to those without bipolar disorder. Now, a new study is suggesting that the genes and proteins found in the striatum are linked to bipolar disorder as well. The striatum acts as a reward pathway and helps to regulate motivation among other things.
“Our finding of a link between bipolar disorder and the striatum at the molecular level complements studies that implicate the same brain region in bipolar disorder at the anatomical level, including functional imaging studies that show altered activity in the striatum of bipolar subjects during tasks that involve balancing reward and risk,” said Research Associate Rodrigo Pacifico, who was first author of the new study.
Researchers are hoping that their findings will lead to the development of diagnostics and treatments.
The more research I find, such as this, the more I realize that bipolar is so much more than a “chemical imbalance.” It truly is a brain disorder. Our brains are anatomically and molecularly different from those without bipolar. It’s so much more than a simple lack of neurotransmitters (i.e., serotonin, dopamine, etc.)
We should all be proud of the progress we’ve made considering what we are up against. Thank goodness for continued research which will hopefully lead to improved treatments. Let’s continue to do our part by taking care of ourselves as best as we can and never giving up!