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First Study to Evaluate Neurobiological Predictors of Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depressed Adolescents

April 13, 2022
Commonly first evident during adolescence, depression is associated with impairment, chronic suffering and early death. As adolescence is a sensitive period for both neurodevelopment and the onset of psychopathology, early intervention during this time period may be particularly beneficial in mitigating the significant impacts of depression.

In a new pilot study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, University of Minnesota researchers evaluated if the structure and function of the salience and emotion brain regions implicated in adolescent depression-specifically the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)-predict response to Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depressed Adolescents (IPT-A).
The researchers say that while there is a wealth of evidence showing that the salience and emotion network (SEN) functions abnormally in depression with adults and adolescents, relatively little research has been conducted on neural predictors of psychotherapy for those suffering from depression, particularly in adolescence, a period when connections within the SEN are changing rapidly.
They evaluated adolescents diagnosed with a depressive disorder using brain scans before the start of a 16 week trial of IPT-A. Clinical measures assessing depressive symptoms were completed before, during, and after a trial of therapy. They found that greater ACC activation in the context of an emotion-matching task and greater amygdala-ACC resting-state functional connectivity was related to greater improvement in depression symptoms.

While the results are preliminary, these findings suggest some avenues for future research to pursue in the hopes that more will benefit from treatment.

"Precision medicine approaches hold considerable promise, yet research on adolescents experiencing depression is far from being fully realized. In our study, we found a pattern of findings that highlights avenues worthy of further consideration," said Bonnie Klimes-Dougan PhD, an associate professor of psychology and co-leader of the RAD (Research in Adolescent Depression) Lab. "Personalized treatments or efforts to determine the optimal treatments for adolescents suffering from depression based on their neurobiological profile could represent a significant advance for our field."

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