‘Depression Uncouples Brain Hate Circuit’
By Liz Lockhart
Depression appears to frequently uncouple the brain’s ‘hate circuit’, according to a team from the University of Warwick.
The researchers, led by Prof. Jianfeng Feng, used fMRI scanners (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to scan the brain activity of 39 depressed individuals and 37 people who were not depressed.
The fMRI scans revealed considerable differences in the brain circuitry of these two groups. The most significant difference which was noted in the depressed patients was the uncoupling of the ‘hate circuit’ involving the superior frontal gyrus, insula and putamen. Other significant changes occurred in circuits related to risk and action responses, attention and memory processing, and reward and emotion.
It was in 2008 that the ‘hate circuit’ was first identified by Prof. Semir Zeki of the University College London. Zeki found that a circuit which appeared to connect three regions of the brain (the superior frontal gyrus, insula and putamen) when test subjects were shown pictures of people they hated.
In this new University of Warwick led research it was found that in a considerable number of the depressed test subjects who were examined by fMRI, the hate circuit was uncoupled. This group of depressed people also appeared to have experienced other significant disruptions to the brain circuits associated with risk and action, reward and emotion, and attention and memory processing.
The study found that for the depressed subjects the hate circuits were 92% likely to be decoupled. The risk/action circuit was 92% likely to be decoupled and the emotion and reward circuit was 82% likely to be decoupled.
‘The results are clear but at first sight are puzzling as we know that depression is often characterised by intense self-loathing and there is no obvious indication that depressives are less prone to hate others,’ said Feng.
‘One possibility is that the uncoupling of this hate circuit could be associated with impaired ability to control and learn from social or other situations which provoke feelings of hate toward self or others. This in turn could lead to an inability to deal appropriately with feelings of hate and an increased likelihood of both uncontrolled self-loathing and withdrawal from social interactions.’
‘It may be that this is a neurological indication that is more normal to have occasion to hate others rather than hate ourselves,’ Feng concluded.
This study is entitled ‘Depression Uncouples Brain Hate Circuit’ and is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Source: University of Warwick