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Depression Dulls Brain's Pleasure Sites

Brain Scans Show Difference Between Depressed, Healthy People's Response to Music
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 19, 2009 -- Depression is well known for dulling people's sense of pleasure, and now, researchers have used high-tech brain scans to watch that happen inside the depressed brain.

Their findings -- which appear in the advance online edition of NeuroReport -- show that when depressed people listened to music they liked, the brain's reward-processing areas weren't as active as when people who weren't depressed listened to their favorite music.

The study included 15 healthy young adults and 16 young adults who had been diagnosed with major depression. Only one of the depressed participants was taking an antidepressant.

First, all participants chose three or four pieces of instrumental music that they liked a lot, as well as a couple of pieces that they didn't particularly like or dislike.

Next, participants heard a sample of the musical pieces they selected while getting their brains scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Healthy participants showed a more robust response, in terms of activity in reward-related brain regions, than depressed participants when they heard the music they liked.

"The study results show that for recently depressed individuals, this loss of enjoyment is linked to very specific parts of the brain which are involved with experiencing pleasure," researcher Elizabeth Osuch, MD, says in a news release.

"If we can target these areas of the brain through treatment, we have the potential to treat depression earlier, right at the source," Osuch says.

Of course, depression treatment is already available and can make a big difference in easing depression symptoms.

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