Depression Chapter 12

Depression Changes the Brain


How Does Depression Change the Brain?

Actual structural alteration—changes in the physical form of the brain—can be observed in people who have depression. These changes are associated with changes in blood flow to the brain and with altered glucose metabolism. READ MORE

Some areas may experience physical disruption, others may change in size:

  • Brain neurons may decrease in size and density.

  • The number of glial support cells may lessen. Glial support cells are vital for communication between neurons.

  • Certain parts of the brain associated with emotion, memory, and learning, particularly the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, can shrink in size. This might explain some of the emotional changes observed in people with depression.

  • Due to the loss of brain tissue, cavities in the brain called ventricles can become larger.

  • The corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, can become either bigger or smaller in size.



Functions of Brain Regions Affected by Depression

Regions of the brain that may be affected by depression include the hypothalamus, hippocampus, anterior cingulate gyrus, amygdala, and all parts of the limbic system (which is involved with emotion formation as well as processing, learning, and memory). The hypothalamus is also important in controlling metabolic processes, such as hunger and body temperature. Other areas that may be affected include the thalamus, which functions as a sort of gateway for the filtering of sensory information; the prefrontal cortex, which is implicated in personality expression and moderating correct social behavior; and the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain.


What Does Stress Do to Your Neurons?

Depression can be both a cause and a result of stress. Stress causes neurons’ dendrites, the extensions of a neuron that receive impulses from nearby neurons, to atrophy, or waste away. Connectivity with other neurons is lessened, and communication between nerve cells is diminished.

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