Harlan Still & Koch

White matter damage in parts of the brain may cause depression

Brain injuries can cause a wide variety of troubling symptoms that have a serious impact on victims’ lives. One of the most frightening side effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is depression. There have been far too many cases of high school and college football players committing suicide after suffering head injuries on the field.

Though it has long been known that there is a link between TBI and depression, along with anxiety, just why this occurs remains unknown. Given how common this symptom is -- some psychologists estimate that up to 70 percent of TBI victims develop depression or anxiety -- figuring out the reason could help lead to treatment options.

A new study discussed by Pacific Standard presents a new theory: disruption of neural signal carriers deep inside the brain, called axons or white matter, may be part of the problem. Using diffusion tensor imaging, a kind of specialized MRI technique, researchers examined the brains of 74 former mild TBI patients. They found that the white matter in the subjects with depression and anxiety was more damaged than those with neither of those conditions.

The most notable areas with axon damage were the nucleus accumbens and two other regions of the brain linked to depression.

Every new discovery about the structure of the brain, and how it can be disabled, may lead to new therapies and treatments. In the meantime, many people in Missouri may struggle with the effects of a brain injury. In many cases, they must stop working, leading to a major financial problem that Social Security Disability payments can help with.

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