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New insights into gender differences in depression
Various studies in the past have shown that depression is significantly more common in women than in men. US researchers have now found a cause for this gender difference in a scientific study.
More and more people suffer from depression
According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people with depression has increased significantly worldwide in recent years. In the EU, too, more and more people suffer from mental illness, especially in older age, as experts reported. Scientific research has shown that women are more affected by depression than men. A study only provides an explanation of why this is so.
Women are affected more than men
Depression, the “world's leading cause of disability”, is far more common in women than in men, reports the “Medical Nesw Today” portal.
Over 300 million people worldwide live with depression. Young women between the ages of 14 and 25 are more than twice as likely to experience mental illness than men of the same age.
Although these differences are less pronounced in later adulthood, global estimates still show a 1.7-fold increase in the prevalence of depression in women compared to men.
Gender-specific differences are manifested in the brain
New research results shed light on how the gender differences in depression are manifested in the brain.
In particular, scientists show how inflammation affects the brain's response to rewards in men and women differently.
The researchers led by Naomi Eisenberger, a professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, found in a scientific study that inflammation in women, but not in men, leads to so-called anhedonia.
Anhedonia (the inability to enjoy activities that used to be fun) is one of the most important features of depression.
At the neurological level, anhedonia shows itself as reduced activity in the area of reward processing of the brain, the so-called ventral striatum.
The results of the study were published in the journal "Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging".
Inflammation was triggered in the test subjects
To arrive at their results, the researchers administered 115 depression-free study participants (69 subjects were female) either a low dose of an endotoxin to trigger inflammation or a placebo.
Participants were randomly assigned to either the control / placebo group or the low-dose endotoxin group.
Two hours after administration, the peak of the inflammatory response to the toxin, subjects were asked to complete a task that would result in a financial reward.
The participants completed the task in a functional MRI scanner.
The results showed that the endotoxin reduced the activity of the reward processing ventral striatum. However, the researchers found that this effect differed by gender.
Women with chronic inflammatory diseases are particularly prone to depression
“In particular,” report Prof. Eisenberger and colleagues, “endotoxin (compared to placebo) led to reduced [ventral striatum] activity in female participants”.
However, this effect was not found in the male participants. This decrease in ventral striatum activity "was related to an increase in inflammation in female but not male participants," the researchers said.
"This indicates that women with chronic inflammatory diseases are particularly susceptible to the development of depression, as the sensitivity to rewards decreases," explains lead author Mona Moieni.
"Physicians who treat female patients with inflammatory diseases should pay special attention to these patients because they may experience depressive symptoms," added Moieni.
According to Prof. Eisenberegr, this study is the first to show these gender differences. It could explain why women have a much higher rate of depression than men. (ad)