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Scientists to study links between physical illness and depression

Washington University In St Louis : 01 November, 2001  (Technical Article)
Neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, are launching a study they hope will help clarify the mind/body connection in depressed older people.
Neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, are launching a study they hope will help clarify the mind/body connection in depressed older people.

The study, funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, will evaluate whether physical illness can increase depression risk. Past studies have shown that older patients with depression tend to have abnormal lesions in frontal brain structures. Similar lesions show up in MRI scans of stroke patients and others with chronic, physical illness.

“The same factors that increase stroke risk also increase depression risk in older people,” says principal investigator Yvette I. Sheline, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry, neurology and radiology at Washington University. “We want to learn whether brain lesions increase the risk of clinical depression and affect the treatment outcome.”

The researchers will study 320 patients who have had bouts of depression in later life. Many also will have other medical illnesses. All will receive MRI scans to help the researchers learn whether it is possible to correlate brain lesions with depression risk and whether patients with more lesions get more depressed or have depression that is harder to treat with commonly prescribed drugs.

“We’ll be studying many patients who, because of their medical illnesses, often are not eligible to participate in other studies of depression. In those studies, the goal is to isolate the causes and effects of depression apart from any influences of medical illness. In this study, we hope to learn about the interaction between the two,” Sheline said.
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