: New study on neurotechnological techniques to treating adolescent depression yields encouraging results. The study was headed by Faranak Farzan, a professor at Simon Fraser University (SFU), and was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports.
The clinical and neurophysiological effects of brain stimulation followed by cognitive exercise in 26 adolescents with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) were investigated (aged 16 – 24 years old).
TBS, a sort of brain stimulation, has previously been proven to be a rapid and effective therapy for treating depression in adults.
TBS stimulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain with magnetic pulses or bursts. This brain region is involved in many aspects of cognition, including reasoning, problem-solving, comprehension, and impulse control.
It also happens to be a brain area associated with MDD. For example, prefrontal brain dysfunction has been linked to symptoms such as rumination and suicide ideation.
TBS was employed to target the prefrontal cortex in juvenile participants for four weeks in this investigation. The researchers then saw and monitored changes in brain activity using a multimodal brain mapping technique of transcranial magnetic stimulation paired with electroencephalography.
At the end of the four-week trial, researchers observed significant changes in brain activity in both the treatment and non-TBS-stimulated regions. Changes in brain activity were also linked to lower depression and rumination scores.
More treatment options needed: “Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 11 per cent of adolescents and youth but existing treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy, fail to significantly improve symptoms in about 30 – 50 per cent of cases,” says Farzan, a professor in SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering (MSE). She also holds the chair in Technology Innovations for Youth Addiction Recovery and Mental Health and heads SFU’s new eBrain Lab.
Researchers note that some medications have also been associated with side effects in youth such as suicidal thoughts and behaviours – leading to the search for safer treatment options.
Building on previous research: Previous research has shown a link between dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex and MDD. “Using TMS-EEG brain mapping technology, we also found that the prefrontal cortex in youth with MDD exhibited greater brain activity relative to healthy youth. It was exciting to see in the current study that four weeks of TBS treatment seemed to reduce this excessive brain activity, possibly reflecting a return to a ‘healthy’ state,” says SFU doctoral student Prabhjot Dhami, the study’s first author.
Prefrontal cortex impairments in youth with MDD may also contribute to symptoms such as rumination and suicidal ideation/behaviour, Farzan notes. Since the prefrontal cortex is critical for executive functioning, dysfunction or deficits in this region can lead to the onset and maintenance of depressive symptoms.
Neurotechnological treatments, such as TBS targeted to the prefrontal cortex followed by a cognitive exercise that may also engage this brain area, according to the researchers, have the ability to optimise the impact on the prefrontal cortex in youth MDD to alleviate symptoms more effectively.