Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017 | Last Update : 11:03 AM IST

Infant's brain scan points out early signs of anxiety

ANI
Published : Feb 2, 2017, 1:31 pm IST
Updated : Feb 2, 2017, 1:32 pm IST

The symptoms have been linked to clinical depression and anxiety disorders in older children and adults.

Brain connections at birth may be responsible for the development of problems later in life (Photo: AFP)
 Brain connections at birth may be responsible for the development of problems later in life (Photo: AFP)

Washington: In a development that can be seen as a 'glass half full or empty' situation, it is possible to predict if your newborn will have depression and other anxiety related issues in the future.

In a latest study published at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry journal, it has been predicted that early predictors of anxiety and depression may be evident in the brain even at birth.

Analyzing brain scans of newborns, the researchers found that the strength and pattern of connections between the amygdala and certain brain regions predicted the likelihood of the babies developing greater internalizing symptoms like sadness, excessive shyness, nervousness, or separation anxiety by age two. Such symptoms have been linked to clinical depression and anxiety disorders in older children and adults.

Assistant professor of child psychiatry said, "The fact that we could see these connectivity patterns in the brain at birth helps answer a critical question about whether they could be responsible for early symptoms linked to depression and anxiety or whether these symptoms themselves lead to changes in the brain".

She added, "We have found that already at birth, brain connections may be responsible for the development of problems later in life."

The researchers looked for differences in the connectivity patterns across various regions of the brain hoping to find evidence to explain why premature babies face a greater risk of developing psychiatric problems - including depression and anxiety - later in life. In particular, the team focused on how a structure involved in the processing of emotions, called the amygdala, connects with other brain regions.

First, they found that healthy, full-term babies had patterns of connectivity between the amygdala and other regions of the brain that were similar to the patterns previous studies had seen in adults. Although there were similar patterns of connectivity in premature infants, the strength of their connections between the amygdala and other brain regions was decreased.

Most interestingly, they noted that connection patterns between the amygdala and other structures - like the insula, which is involved in consciousness and emotion, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which plays roles in planning and decision making - increased the risk of early symptoms related to depression and anxiety.

When the babies turned two years old, a subset received follow-up assessments to look for early symptoms of anxiety and depression. The researchers evaluated 27 of the children who were born prematurely and 17 born at term.

The researchers also want to evaluate all the children from the study again when they are 9-10 years old to learn whether brain connections continue to influence the risk for depression and anxiety disorders.

Tags: brain scans, health, anxiety disorders