New Research to Examine Brain Physiology in Depression

Lori Harwood
July 30, 2004

A new study at the University of Arizona in Tucson will investigate whether a particular brain wave marker might someday be useful in identifying people who are at risk for depression.

The marker, called frontal electroencephalographic asymmetry, can distinguish many individuals who are depressed or are in remission from those who have never had the disorder. It has the potential to serve as a liability marker for the development of depression, said John Allen, a professor of psychology at the UA.

Such a marker should be a stable characteristic of each person and in fact has trait-like stability. But, says Allen, frontal EEG asymmetry fluctuates from one recording session to the next, and even within sessions as a function of experimentally manipulated emotion. Unless this variability can be controlled and quantified, its usefulness as a marker is limited.

With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Allen plans to evaluate frontal EEG asymmetry by looking at some of the factors that may interfere with the ability to measure the trait-like risk for depression.

The five-year, $1,125,000 study ("Trait and State Frontal Brain Asymmetry in Depression") will test 250 participants. Those with clinically significant depression will also receive free treatment. The results of the study will address whether frontal EEG asymmetry may index the risk for depression. If it also appears to be sensitive to a family history of depression, it may merit further investigation as a marker for genetic risk for depression.

"The findings will hopefully tell us more about the underlying pathology in depression, with the hope of ultimately developing new and possibly more effective treatments and preventions," Allen said.


Resources for the media

John Allen, professor of psychology
520- 621-7447
Al Kaszniak, professor and head of the UA psychology dept.