Globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. Using brain scans, researchers at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research are attempting to identify children at risk of developing depression—so that it may be treated before symptoms appear.
In a joint study with Harvard Medical School, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to map network pathways in the brains of children identified as at-risk, as well as of a control group of children with no family history of depression. They discovered notable differences between the groups, identifying patterns in the at-risk group that have also been observed in the brains of depressed adults.
According to MIT neuroscientist John Gabrieli, “the differences were so strong child by child that we were very close to perfect in being able to categorize from a brain scan itself whether a child was at risk or not.” Gabrieli is the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology and a member of the McGovern Institute.
The research team plans to track the children involved in the study and evaluate how early intervention might prevent episodes of depression. “If you can avoid that first bout,” says Gabrieli, “maybe it would put the person on a different trajectory.”