Joan Luby, M.D. (photo), director of the Early Development Program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues conducted a study in which approximately 130 youth with and without a previous diagnosis for major depressive disorder (MDD) were followed from preschool-aged years to adolescence to assess the psychopathological and long-term neuroanatomical consequences of the onset of MDD in early childhood.
The results showed that more than 55% of those with early childhood MDD displayed pathological guilt during their preschool years, compared with 20% in the nondepressed group. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers found that the right anterior insula—involved in emotion and self-perception—was smaller in adolescents with a history of MDD and guilt during early childhood, compared with that of their counterparts without such medical history. The data also showed that adolescents with smaller insula were more prone to experiencing recurrent episodes of clinical depression as they aged.
The researchers noted that “excessive guilt and depression may put preschoolers on a developmental trajectory that contributes to problems with depression later in childhood and even throughout life.” They concluded that the current findings concerning the brain’s right anterior insula "are consistent with mounting research in adult MDD suggesting that insula function and structure may be a target biomarker for major depression."
To read more about how the size of brain regions may serve as biomarkers for psychiatric disorders, see the Psychiatric News article "Brain-Region Size May Be Long-Sought Biomarker."
(Image Courtesy of Washington University School of Medicine)