Anxiety and depression are widespread mental health issues in our society. They often occur together and can increase the risk of developing other mental and physical health problems.
Researchers are using neuroimaging studies to better understand the underlying causes of these disorders. However, most studies have not taken into account the presence of both anxiety and depressive symptoms in individuals.
A recent study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research set out to identify common and specific neural patterns associated with depression and anxiety symptoms. The researchers utilized the UK Biobank, which is the largest repository of neuroimaging data.
The researchers, lead by Jiangyun Hou of the University of Amsterdam, examined data from more than 20,000 individuals. The participants were categorized into four distinct groups: individuals with current anxiety symptoms, current depressive symptoms, combined anxiety and depressive symptoms, and non-symptomatic controls.
The researchers analyzed the data using a technique called amplitude of low-frequency fluctuations (ALFF), which measures neural activity in specific brain regions. It assesses the intensity or strength of spontaneous low-frequency fluctuations in the brain’s blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal.
ALFF analysis provides insights into the functional connectivity and organization of the brain, as well as potential alterations in neural activity related to various neurological and psychiatric conditions.
Hou and her colleagues found that the brain activity during rest was different in individuals with anxiety symptoms compared to those without any symptoms. Specifically, the individuals with anxiety symptoms showed increased ALFF in various regions of the brain, including the midbrain, pons, striatum, thalamus, and hippocampus. These regions are known to be involved in anxiety-related behaviors and the regulation of emotions.
On the other hand, the researchers did not find significant differences in ALFF in individuals with depressive symptoms compared to those without any symptoms. This suggests that the altered brain activity during rest is more closely associated with anxiety symptoms rather than depressive symptoms.
These findings provide valuable insights into the neural differences between anxiety and depressive symptoms. They suggest that there are distinct patterns of brain activity in individuals with anxiety symptoms, while no significant differences were found in individuals with depressive symptoms alone. However, more research is needed to fully understand the complex relationship between anxiety, depression, and brain function.
The study, “Increased subcortical brain activity in anxious but not depressed individuals“, was authored by Jiangyun Hou, Shu Liu, and Guido van Wingen.