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Depression looks different in the brains of boys and girls

Polina Shuvaeva / iStock

Scientists have long known that depression expresses differently in men and women, but new research shows that those differences are brain-deep. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, found variations in the activity of two regions of the brain associated with depression (the supramarginal gyrus and posterior cingulate) in adolescent boys and girls.

Why it matters: According to the CDC, women are almost twice as likely to experience depression as men, but men are more likely to experience chronic depression and commit suicide. Additionally, say the researchers, most research on depression focuses on women because it's more common. By understanding how the brains of men and women behave when they're depressed, scientists hope to develop better diagnosis and treatment.

What they did: The study participants were given what's called a go/no-go task. They were shown a group of words — some considered to be happy or sad — and were instructed to press a button when certain words appeared on the screen. As the participants completed the task, the researchers used an fMRI to see how each group's brains responded to the happy or sad words.

Limitations:

The study has a fairly small sample size — 82 depressed females between the ages of 11 and 18 and 24 healthy females in the same age bracket. But they had difficulty recruiting males, perhaps because of the lower prevalence of depression, so their study included only 24 depressed males and 10 healthy males.

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