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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Apr 14;106(15):6273-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0805311106. Epub 2009 Mar 27.

Cortical thinning in persons at increased familial risk for major depression.

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  • 1Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York State Psychiatric Institute, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10032, USA.


The brain disturbances that place a person at risk for developing depression are unknown. We imaged the brains of 131 individuals, ages 6 to 54 years, who were biological descendants (children or grandchildren) of individuals identified as having either moderate to severe, recurrent, and functionally debilitating depression or as having no lifetime history of depression. We compared cortical thickness across high- and low-risk groups, detecting large expanses of cortical thinning across the lateral surface of the right cerebral hemisphere in persons at high risk. Thinning correlated with measures of current symptom severity, inattention, and visual memory for social and emotional stimuli. Mediator analyses indicated that cortical thickness mediated the associations of familial risk with inattention, visual memory, and clinical symptoms. These findings suggest that cortical thinning in the right hemisphere produces disturbances in arousal, attention, and memory for social stimuli, which in turn may increase the risk of developing depressive illness.

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