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Can stress and depression shrink your brain?

Yale scientists discover that stress and depression can actually decrease brain volume.

Brain fibersEnlarge
The image shows the Manhattan-like grid structure of brain fibers using a powerful new scanner that is used to map the complex organ. (MGH-UCLA Human Connectome Project/Courtesy)

Can major stress and depression shrink your brain? Disturbingly enough, a new study out of Yale indicates that the answer may be "yes."

The Yale team found that there's a single genetic switch, known as the transcription factor, that is needed for brain synapses to connect with one another, according to the university's website.

(If you're wondering what a synapse is, this explanation from the University of Washington - geared towards kids - happens to be pretty excellent). 

When these connections between synapses aren't made, brain mass can be lost in the prefrontal cortex, the researchers claim.  

More from GlobalPost: Are hoarders brains different? 

“We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in humans,” senior author Ronald Duman said on Yale's website.

“We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated.”

Although this isn't exactly the most heartening news, it could potentially lead to good things for depression and stress sufferers, says Yale, allowing doctors to identify gene variations that could predispose people to depression and stress disorders. 

“We hope that by enhancing synaptic connections, either with novel medications or behavioral therapy, we can develop more effective antidepressant therapies,” said Ronald Duman. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/health/120812/can-stress-and-depression-shrink-your-brain