Lower White Matter Density Predicts Depression in Teens

September 12, 2018

Adolescents with lower white matter density in the brain at age 14 were more likely to develop depression at age 16, suggesting reduced white matter density may be a depression vulnerability biomarker. Researchers published their findings online in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

While white matter density alterations previously have been linked with depressive episodes during adolescence, researchers were unsure whether such variations predated depression. They conducted the study to gain a better understanding.

The investigation included 96 14-year-olds who experienced at least 3 depressive symptoms in the previous month and 336 healthy controls matched for age. Researchers conducted brain scans, then followed up 2 years later to screen for depression and other psychiatric disorders.

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Using a technique called fractional anisotropy, researchers discovered 14-year-olds with subthreshold depression had reduced nerve fiber density in the corpus callosum as well as in the nerve fibers connecting the corpus callosum to the anterior cingulate cortex, Psychiatric News Alert reported. The corpus callosum is the band of nerves that connects brain hemispheres, and the anterior cingulate cortex mediates attention, reward anticipation, and other behaviors.

In participants who developed depression by age 16, lower nerve fiber density was more pronounced, according to Psychiatric News Alert. An algorithm designed by researchers was 75% accurate in identifying which participants went on to develop depression.

Depression was the only psychiatric disorder that reduced nerve fiber density predicted at follow-up, according to the study.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Vulser H, Paillère Martinot ML, Artiges E, et al. Early variations in white matter microstructure and depression outcome in adolescents with subthreshold depression. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2018 August 16;[Epub ahead of print].

Lower white matter density at age 14 may signal future depression. Psychiatric News Alert. August 24, 2018.