A Moody Mind May Wax On, But Not Off

neurons_PatrickHoesly.jpg

Different parts of the brain are connected by a neuron network. This network is responsible for synchronizing the different areas of brain activity.

It makes sense that having an extensive network of neurons would be good for mental health, but what if the network forgets how to turn itself off?

The result is hyper-connectedness, or neural over-activity, which has been linked to major depressive disorder (MDD).

Researchers at UCLA discovered that when a person’s network activity cannot be switched off, it becomes difficult for that person to manage his or her mood. This person's neural network lights up the party but doesn’t turn off when the party is over.

Particularly, the prefrontal cortex remains overactive. Located behind the forehead, this part of the brain plays a leadership role in our thinking. It's involved in choosing between right and wrong, regulating our social actions, and in managing conflicting thoughts. The prefrontal cortex has a lot to say about our personality, moods, and level of intelligence.

The prefrontal cortex and other brain areas are designed to function cooperatively. To do that, their neural network must be able to fire up (synchronize) and shut down (desynchronize). Or, as the Karate Kid learned, to wax-on and wax-off.

When this cooperation is lost through neural hyper-activity, the result may be a variety of MDD symptoms, such as insomnia, fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, and anxiety.

Some of the researchers suggested that antidepressants may work by re-synchronizing the activity between brain areas. It is known that antidepressants, aside from increasing the presence of neurotransmitters, alter our brain’s electrical wave pattern. Maybe in doing so, the on-off cooperation necessary for good mental health is re-established.

Like most research, these findings are a small drop in a gigantic bucket, but as T.H. White wrote:

"The best thing for being sad... is to learn something. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."

So, researchers keep researching to learn about the intricacies of the amazing organic computer within our skulls. Their findings help all of us imagine the complex choreography necessary to keep the dance of thought and body-function in step.

Source: UCLA's Laboratory of Brain, Behavior, and Pharmacology

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