Dr. Sanjay Gupta hosts a video on Everyday Health that features the work of NARSAD Grantees Cameron Craddock, Ph.D. and Helen Mayberg, M.D. They discuss how different efforts to identify how depression is linked to malfunctioning in the brain’s network will change how people think about depression. By recognizing it as a brain disease, akin to diseases of other organs in the body, advances in research can break down the stigma associated with depression (and other mental illnesses), removing what is often a barrier for people to seek help.
The video starts by introducing the current work of Dr. Craddock, Director of Imaging at the Child Mind Institute and Research Scientist at the Nathan Kline Institute. Dr. Craddock is using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to observe brain activity in depressed and non-depressed patients in the part of the brain called the “default network.” The default network is more active when the brain is at rest and less active when the brain is engaged in mental activity. Dr. Craddock’s theory is that in people with depression, the default network doesn’t “turn off” properly when the brain needs to switch from a resting state to engage in some kind of focused activity.
To test his theory, Dr. Craddock uses the fMRI images to observe the blood flow in this default network area when the individuals are prompted to let their minds wander or to focus on completing a task. He does observe a difference―he finds that in the brains of the individuals with depression, the default network remains active even when the individuals are asked to focus on a task. The brain has difficulty shifting to “focus.”
Dr. Gupta also discusses the pioneering work of three-time NARSAD Grantee Helen Mayberg, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Radiology at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Mayberg and other neuroscientists have identified a specific region in the brain called the subgenual cingulate as a locus of pathology in depression. Dr. Mayberg has been targeting this area with an experimental treatment called deep brain stimulation. She has been able to successfully treat severely depressed patients who have not responded to other treatments using this technique. This is another example of identifying and treating depression as a disease.