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Scans Show Shared Brain Abnormalities With Mood, Anxiety Disorders

November 04, 2019

People with mood or anxiety disorders demonstrate shared abnormalities in brain regions involved in emotional and cognitive control, according to a meta-analysis of brain scans published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

“These brain imaging findings provide a science-based explanation as to why patients with mood and anxiety disorders seem to be ‘locked in’ to negative mood states,” said study senior author Sophia Frangou, MD, PhD, a psychiatry professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “They also corroborate the patients’ experience of being unable to stop and switch away from negative thoughts and feelings.”

The investigation is believed to be the largest analysis of brain scans of people with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety disorders. More than 9000 brain scans from previous studies comparing the brain activity of healthy adults to patients with a mood or anxiety disorder were included.

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Dr. Frangou and coauthors reported that, compared with healthy adults, those with mood or anxiety disorders showed abnormally low activity in several key regions associated with emotional and cognitive control: the inferior prefrontal and parietal cortex, the insula, and the putamen. The regions are involved in a person’s ability to stop ongoing mental activities and switch to new ones.

In addition, brain scans revealed that patients with mood or anxiety disorders have hyperactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the left amygdala, and the thalamus. Those areas work together to process emotional thoughts and feelings.

“These shared brain phenotypes have the potential to serve as targets for interventions aiming to improve clinical outcomes and reduce or prevent affective morbidity in the general population,” researchers wrote.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Janiri D, Moser DA, Doucet GE, et al. Shared neural phenotypes for mood and anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis of 226 task-related functional imaging studies. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019 October 30;[Epub ahead of print].

Patients with mood, anxiety disorders share abnormalities in brain’s control circuit [press release]. Vancouver, Canada: The University of British Columbia; October 30, 2019.

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