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Neural activity may differ between males and females with Adolescent Major Depressive Disorder

In a recent study, evidence of a sex difference in neural activation during a cognitive task was demonstrated in relation to adolescent major depressive disorder (MDD), with a novel focus on males [1]. There are differences between men and women in symptom presentation in MDD, and men are more likely to experience persistent, and women, recurrent, forms of depression [2]. By the age of 15, girls are two times as likely to experience depression compared to their male counterparts [3], whereas in adulthood, men are more likely to become suicidal [4].     

A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry investigated depression in male and female adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17 [1]. Cognitive control of emotion, which also appears to differ between males and females, was tested using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during an affective Go/No-Go task [1]. The participants’ responses to happy, sad or neutral words were measured during image acquisition. Neural activity in response to the sad words differed in the supramarginal gyrus in adolescent males compared to females [1]. Interestingly, depressed adolescent males showed decreased cerebellar activation and an age related decrease in its connectivity with the superior frontal gyrus compared to healthy adolescent males [1].

A number of brain regions found to be affected in adolescent males are involved in the default mode network, which is of interest as this network may be involved in the decline in cognition that occurs in MDD [5]. In light of sex differences related to MDD, the results of this study suggest that preventative and therapeutic interventions may be improved if neural differences are taken into consideration. It remains unknown whether developmental neural changes are involved in the etiology of this illness. As an important caveat, the study did encounter issues with enrollment, as fewer males participated compared to females, highlighting the need for matched sample sizes in future studies.



[1] Chuang J-Y, Hagan CC, Murray GK, Graham JME, Ooi C, Tait R, Holt RJ, Elliott R, van Nieuwenhuizen AO, Bullmore ET, Lennox BR, Sahakian BJ, Goodyer IM and Suckling J (2017) Adolescent Major Depressive Disorder: Neuroimaging Evidence of Sex Difference during an Affective Go/No-Go Task. Front. Psychiatry 8:119. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00119


[2] Dunn V, Goodyer IM. Longitudinal investigation into childhood- and adolescence-onset depression: psychiatric outcome in early adulthood. Br J Psychiatry (2006) 188:216–22.


[3] Cyranowski JM, Frank E, Young E, Shear MK. Adolescent onset of the gender difference in lifetime rates of major depression: a theoretical model. Arch Gen Psychiatry (2000) 57(1):21–7.


[4] Blair-West GW, Cantor CH, Mellsop GW, Eveson-Annan ML. Lifetime suicide risk in major depression: sex and age determinants.  J Affect Disord. 1999 Oct: 55 (2-3): 171-8.  

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