Brain Scan Can Predict Efficacy of Talk Therapy for Depression

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Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have demonstrated that a brain scan can indicate which patients with depression are most likely to respond to talk therapy.

Gabriel S. Dichter, PhD, and colleagues at the school, used a technique known as resting-state functional brain connectivity MRI (rs-fcMRI) that identified differences in brain wiring, providing an ability to predict therapeutic reponses to talk therapy.

The researchers enrolled 23 people with major depressive disorder, but had yet to receive treatment. They all received at outset rs-fcMRIs, which visualize the coordinated activity of various brain regions while the brain is in a resting state. The technique helps identify brain regions that activate in unison. This, in turn, could help them discover networks of activity that might be linked to certain behaviors or responses to therapy.

Participants then received an average of 12 weekly behavioral activation talk therapy sessions, which focuses on the immediate behaviors associated with depression, such as difficulty getting to work on time or not spending time with loved ones. Traditional talk therapy involves discussing childhood experiences or changing thought processes.

Patients that benefited from the talk therapy had greater connectivity between the anterior insular cortex, a tiny brain region involved in assigning importance to events, and the middle temporal gyrus, involved in emotion, the researchers reported in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. 

In addition, these patients had stronger connections between the intraparietal sulcus, a snake-like structure involved in maintaining focus, and the orbital frontal cortex, a brain region that assigns positive or negative values to events.

“It's a long road to find the right treatment for each patient,” Dichter said in a statement. “Our goal is to develop a road map, to use this type of information to predict which patients will respond to which treatments.”

Brain scans predict effectiveness of talk therapy to treat depression
Brain Scan Can Predict Efficacy of Talk Therapy for Depression

UNC School of Medicine researchers have shown that brain scans can predict which patients with clinical depression are most likely to benefit from a specific kind of talk therapy.

The study, which was published today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, is the first to use a technique known as resting-state functional brain connectivity MRI to identify differences in brain wiring that predict therapeutic responses to talk therapy.

The research shows that brain scans could ultimately be used as a diagnostic tool to determine the best course of treatment for the millions of Americans that suffer from depression.

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