Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) could be used to predict which patients with recovered major depressive disorder are most likely to have more depressive episodes, according to a study published today in JAMA Psychiatry.

Researchers from King’s College London and The University of Manchester, funded by the Medical Research Council, gave 64 patients who were in remission from major depressive disorder, and not on prescribed medication, fMRI scans to look for atypical connections in the brain.

During the scans the participants were asked to imagine acting badly towards their best friends and they experienced self-blaming emotions such as guilt. Over the following 14 months they were seen regularly and monitored for symptoms. At the end of the study 37 remained in remission while 27 had had a recurrence of their depression.

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