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Antidepressants Give Extra Protection

Medications shield hippocampus in brains of depressed women

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

FRIDAY, Aug. 1, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Antidepressants seem to protect an important brain structure that's often damaged by depression.

That claim comes from a Washington University School of Medicine study in the August issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers studied an area of the brain called the hippocampus in 38 women who had experienced an average of five episodes of major depression in their lifetimes. Only some of those episodes of depression had been treated with antidepressants.

The hippocampus is involved in memory and learning. Previous research found the hippocampus is smaller in people who have been clinically depressed than in people who have never suffered depression.

In this new study, the researchers used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure hippocampal volumes in the 38 women. The women were also interviewed to determine how long each of their depressions lasted and their use of antidepressants.

The study found that, on average, hippocampal volume was smaller than normal in depressed women and that the less time a women had spent taking antidepressants, the smaller her hippocampus.

The amount of lost hippocampus volume was predictable based on the number of days of depression versus the time spent on antidepressants, the study says.

"Our results suggest that if a woman takes antidepressants whenever she is depressed, depression would have less effect on the volume of her hippocampus. It is the untreated days that seem to affect hippocampal volumes," lead author Dr. Yvette I. Sheline, associate professor of psychiatry, radiology and neurology, says in a news release.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about depression.

SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine, news release, Aug. 1, 2003
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