New research hints that depression could accelerate brain aging

  • New studies have found a possible link between depression and increased speed of brain aging.
  • Synaptic density, which has been seen to be directly related to good cognition, is significantly lower in patients with depression.
  • Other factors that can speed up brain aging is the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier and the deterioration of brain receptors due to age and depression.

As we grow older, our cognitive skills naturally also get rustier. New studies have shown that it’s possible that depression might speed up that process.

Developing depression late in life may also be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Though depression has been linked to cognitive issues like problems with attention and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, exactly how depression affects cognition isn’t really clear.

Good cognition is linked to the synapses in the brain- the stronger or denser the synapses, the better cognition is. However, until just recently, scientists could only measure the number of synapses in brain tissue collected after death. Scientists from Yale University were able to scan the brains of living people using a new technique.

Results showed that patients who had depression had a lower density of synapses as compared to healthy patients of the same age. The lower density of synapses also meant more severe symptoms of depression. Neuroscientist Irina Esterlis included a wide range of patients, not just seniors, theorizing that damage can build up as the patient ages.

Esterlis’ studies are small, and to really see if her theory holds weight, more studies tracking synaptic density need to be conducted in a larger number of participants as they age and if depression has an effect on how it fluctuates. Dr. Mary Sano of Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York, who wasn’t part of the new study, said that cognitive aging involves other health problems like the slow of blood flow in the brain. Depression, related to synaptic decline, worsens the symptoms of cognitive aging.

Aside from depression, our brain ages as the blood-brain barrier which helps protect the brain gradually breaks down. Daniela Kaufer of the University of California, Berkley said that cognitive impairment can be caused by inflammation triggered by the barrier’s degeneration. In studies with mice, Kaufer’s lab is developing a way to deter inflammatory damage.

One more thing that causes brain aging is brain receptors that become impaired due to increasing age and depression. Etienne Sibille from the University of Toronto is also working on mouse studies with a compound that could reverse memory loss caused by stress. However, any human testing is at least a few years away.


Source: AP News

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