Patients with mood, anxiety disorders share abnormalities in brain’s control circuit

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 61 , No. 10 , December 2019 , Pages 397-398 News

New research published in JAMA Psychiatry shows for the first time that patients with mood and anxiety disorders share the same abnormalities in regions of the brain involved in emotional and cognitive control. The findings hold promise for the development of new treatments targeting these regions of the brain in patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders.

Mood and anxiety disorders account for nearly 65% of psychosocial disability worldwide and represent a major public health challenge. In Canada, one in three people (approximately 9.1 million) will be affected by mental illness during their lifetime, according to Statistics Canada. The defining symptoms of these dis­orders are persistent or recurring negative feelings, mainly depression and anxiety.

Dr Sophia Frangou is the study’s senior author and a psychiatry professor at UBC. Dr Frangou recently joined UBC as the President’s Excellence Chair in Brain Health at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. She started this research as head of the research team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

For the study, Dr Frangou and her research team analyzed more than 9000 brain scans from previously published studies that compared the brain activity of healthy adults to those diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder, ranging from major depression to posttraumatic stress disorder.

They found that patients exhibited abnormally low activity in the inferior prefrontal and parietal cortex, the insula, and the putamen—regions that are key parts of the brain circuit for emotional and cognitive control and are responsible for stopping ongoing mental activities and switching to new ones. They also discovered hyperactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the left amygdala, and the thalamus, which work together to process emotional thoughts and feelings.

Following her move to UBC, Dr Frangou plans to pursue further research to leverage these findings toward more targeted interventions, such as noninvasive simulation of specific regions of the brain, which could improve outcomes for those living with mood and anxiety disorders.

The study is believed to be the largest analysis of brain scans of patients with mood and anxiety disorders to date. It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US, the German research funding organization Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.

The study, “Shared neural phenotypes for mood and anxiety disorders” is available at online at

. Patients with mood, anxiety disorders share abnormalities in brain’s control circuit. BCMJ, Vol. 61, No. 10, December, 2019, Page(s) 397-398 - News.

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