Researchers find clues that depression may speed brain aging

Memory and thinking skills naturally slow with age but now scientists are peeking inside living brains to tell if depression might worsen that decline — and finding some worrisome clues.

Posted: Feb 18, 2019 8:53 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Memory and thinking skills naturally slow with age but now scientists are peeking inside living brains to tell if depression might worsen that decline — and finding some worrisome clues.

Depression has long been linked to certain cognitive problems, and depression late in life even may be a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's. Yet how depression might harm cognition isn't clear.

One possibility: Brain cells communicate by firing messages across connections called synapses. Generally, good cognition is linked to more and stronger synapses. With cognitive impairment, those junctions gradually shrink and die off. But until recently, scientists could count synapses only in brain tissue collected after death.

Yale University scientists used a new technique to scan the brains of living people — and discovered that patients with depression had a lower density of synapses than healthy people the same age.

The lower the density, the more severe the depression symptoms, particularly problems with attention and loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, Yale neuroscientist Irina Esterlis said Thursday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She wasn't studying just seniors but a range of ages including people too young for any cognitive changes to be obvious outside of a brain scan — on the theory that early damage can build up.

"We think depression might be accelerating the normal aging," she said.

Her studies so far are small. To prove if depression really worsens that decline would require tracking synaptic density in larger numbers of people as they get older, to see if and how it fluctuates over time in those with and without depression, cautioned Jovier Evans, a staff scientist at the National Institute on Mental Health.

Esterlis is planning a larger study to do that. It's delicate research. Volunteers are injected with a radioactive substance that binds to a protein in the vesicles, or storage bins, used by synapses. Then during a PET scan, areas with synapses light up, allowing researchers to see how many are in different regions of the brain.

Esterlis said there are no medications that specifically target the underlying synapse damage.

But other brain experts said the preliminary findings are a reminder of how important it is to treat depression promptly, so people don't spend years suffering.

"If your mood isn't enough to make you go and get treated, then hopefully your cognition is," said Dr. Mary Sano, who directs the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York and wasn't involved in the new research.

Still, she cautioned that normal cognitive aging is a complicated process that involves other health problems, such as heart disease that slows blood flow in the brain. It might be that depression, rather than worsening synaptic decline, just makes it more obvious, Sano noted.

With depression "at any age, there's a hit on the brain. At an older age the hit may be more visible because there may already be some loss," she explained.

Indeed, another way the brain ages: The blood-brain barrier, which normally protects against infiltration of damaging substances, gradually breaks down, Daniela Kaufer of the University of California, Berkeley, told the AAAS meeting. That triggers inflammation, setting off a cascade that can cause cognitive impairment. Her lab found a specific molecular culprit and is developing, in studies with mice, a way to block the inflammatory damage.

The University of Toronto's Etienne Sibille is developing a compound to target yet another piece of the puzzle, brain receptors that are impaired with both aging and depression. Mouse studies showed it could reverse stress-induced memory loss, he said. Any human testing is at least several years away.

___

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

West Lafayette
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 66°
Kokomo
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 64°
Rensselaer
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 61°
Fowler
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 61°
Williamsport
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 62°
Crawfordsville
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 61°
Frankfort
Overcast
67° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 67°
Delphi
Broken Clouds
67° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 67°
Monticello
Broken Clouds
67° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 67°
Logansport
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 66°
Dry, windy, very warm weather, followed by scattered rain & much cooler conditions.
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115407

Reported Deaths: 3566
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21196765
Lake10493323
Elkhart6528110
St. Joseph6392106
Allen6178202
Hamilton4848109
Vanderburgh360930
Hendricks2715123
Monroe256036
Tippecanoe239113
Johnson2305123
Clark221457
Porter213647
Delaware194262
Cass19419
Vigo182526
Madison164375
LaPorte142340
Floyd135862
Howard130563
Warrick128038
Kosciusko121617
Bartholomew116457
Marshall100824
Dubois96919
Boone96846
Hancock92143
Grant91934
Noble90832
Henry79826
Wayne75414
Jackson7499
Morgan71638
Shelby67229
Daviess66328
Dearborn66028
LaGrange63411
Clinton59914
Harrison57624
Putnam56412
Knox5159
Gibson5114
Lawrence51129
Montgomery50821
White48514
DeKalb47611
Decatur45839
Miami4353
Greene42435
Fayette42113
Jasper3942
Steuben3807
Scott37311
Sullivan33712
Posey3240
Jennings31312
Franklin30725
Clay3005
Ripley2968
Orange28824
Carroll27413
Whitley2707
Washington2651
Wabash2648
Starke2637
Adams2613
Wells2614
Jefferson2483
Spencer2413
Fulton2382
Huntington2363
Tipton22622
Perry22113
Randolph2167
Jay1800
Newton17311
Owen1681
Martin1640
Rush1554
Pike1471
Vermillion1280
Fountain1232
Blackford1193
Pulaski1131
Crawford1050
Brown1043
Parke962
Benton880
Ohio787
Union780
Switzerland690
Warren391
Unassigned0226

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events