Can Brain Scans See Depression? [NY Times]

  • #1
hypnagogue
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,244
2

Main Question or Discussion Point

They seem almost alive: snapshots of the living human brain.

Not long ago, scientists predicted that these images, produced by sophisticated brain-scanning techniques, would help cut through the mystery of mental illness, revealing clear brain abnormalities and allowing doctors to better diagnose and treat a wide variety of disorders. And nearly every week, it seems, imaging researchers announce another finding, a potential key to understanding depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety.

Yet for a variety of reasons, the hopes and claims for brain imaging in psychiatry have far outpaced the science, experts say.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/18/health/psychology/18imag.html?incamp=article_popular
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
somasimple
Gold Member
749
5
Hi,

It is well known that depressed states are corelated with decreased brain activity (see A Damasio, O Sacks). But it is ure that defining a "normal" activity will be a huge problem.
 
  • #3
DocToxyn
Science Advisor
424
0
The application of functional brain scans like fMRI, PET, SPECT and others should allow the activity in specific regions of the brain of a depressed person to be compared to someone without clinically diagnosed depression. Keep in mind that it may not simply be an overall decrease in brain activity, perhaps some areas are more active in the depressed brain, it depends on the underlying pathology/condition.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15944023&query_hl=3"
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15722900&query_hl=3"
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15550349&query_hl=3"
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15380113&query_hl=3"
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • #4
somasimple
Gold Member
749
5
Keep in mind that it may not simply be an overall decrease in brain activity, perhaps some areas are more active in the depressed brain,
Yes, that's true and many scientists say that brain functioning becomes draft with depression. The slow functioning is under the serotonin production.
 
  • #5
hypnagogue
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,244
2
DocToxyn said:
The application of functional brain scans like fMRI, PET, SPECT and others should allow the activity in specific regions of the brain of a depressed person to be compared to someone without clinically diagnosed depression.
According to the article:
In a range of studies, researchers have found that people with schizophrenia suffer a progressive loss of their brain cells: a 20-year-old who develops the disorder, for example, might lose 5 percent to 10 percent of overall brain volume over the next decade, studies suggest.

Ten percent is a lot, and losses of volume in the frontal lobes are associated with measurable impairment in schizophrenia, psychiatrists have found. But brain volume varies by at least 10 percent from person to person, so volume scans of patients by themselves cannot tell who is sick, the experts say.

Studies using brain scans to measure levels of brain activity often suffer from the same problem: what looks like a "hot spot" of activity change in one person's brain may be a normal change in someone else's.

"The differences observed are not in and of themselves outside the range of variation seen in the normal population," said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia University Medical Center and director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
So a big problem seems to be how to decide whether observed variation is due to some (say) depressive disorder, or whether it falls under the expected range of variation in 'normal' subjects. Of course we can always observe the differences between populations once we've already sorted out who is clinically depressed and who isn't, but using imaging techniques as a diagnostic tool to decide whether a given subject should or should not be categorized as depressed seems to be another issue altogether. Also, statistically speaking, there might be some difference on average between the depressed and normal brain types that is relatively clear, but such a difference would be much more difficult to discern on a case-by-case basis.

I wonder how much of these difficulties can be chalked up to idiosyncratic/developmental differences in individuals in terms of how various things in the brain are encoded? This might be a nut complex enough that getting imaging tools with better spatial/temporal resolutions won't be enough to crack it. Then again, it might not.
 
Last edited:
  • #6
somasimple
Gold Member
749
5
But it is ure that defining a "normal" activity will be a huge problem.
That is what I have said.
 
  • #7
31
0
Seems to me scanning the brain to find out what is going on psycologically is like xraying a computer to find out what progam is running. Bah, humbug.
 
  • #8
somasimple
Gold Member
749
5
But mind is a brain affair! :rolleyes:
 
  • #9
hypnagogue
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,244
2
somasimple said:
But mind is a brain affair! :rolleyes:
kublai wasn't debating that, as should have been clear from the hardware/software analogy.

kublai said:
Seems to me scanning the brain to find out what is going on psycologically is like xraying a computer to find out what progam is running. Bah, humbug.
I think your concern is valid, though it's not as bad as you might think. X-raying a computer isn't likely to tell you anything about what the computer is doing; a better analogy would be trying to figure out what software a computer is running by analyzing the electrical signals it send back and forth across its processing/memory components.

Also, keep in mind that imaging studies of the brain do not stop at merely imaging the brain. Rather, the brain is imaged while subjects perform some kind of cognitive tasks, so we do have a pretty good high-level idea of what kinds of input, processing of input, and output are involved. For instance, if we see that a particular set of brain regions is consistently more active than baseline while subjects perform a visual memory task, we have good reason to believe that these regions are involved with visual memory. Of course it's all much more complex than that, and there's lots of further refinements and dissociations and so on that need to be done, but the point is that we're not completely in the dark about what the brain is doing at the outset.

So to further refine your analogy, we should say that brain imaging studies are like observing the pattern of electrical activity in a computer while we feed certain inputs into it, ask the computer to perform certain computations on the input, and observe the output. In this way we can slowly begin to refine our knowledge of what exactly the computer is doing during this input/computation/output process, and how it's doing it (i.e., we slowly figure out the nature of the software that the computer is running by observing how its internal workings are related to its external 'behavior').
 

Related Threads for: Can Brain Scans See Depression? [NY Times]

Replies
4
Views
12K
Replies
7
Views
4K
Replies
3
Views
4K
Replies
1
Views
3K
Replies
2
Views
6K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
3K
Replies
4
Views
3K
Replies
19
Views
5K
Top