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Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) alters the way the brain communicates with its various components. For people with depression and other serious mood disorders, it can help the way their brains deliver messages. It has been effective, as well as controversial, therapy for depression for over seventy years.
It sounds scary. Patients are anesthetized and, using an electric shock, induced to seizure. Now researchers have demonstrated how exactly this process work.
When a patient has depression, it seems that parts of the brain are overactive. ECT “turns down” the brain, thinking goes back to normal and the patient can resume his life.
The research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of nine patients. All were diagnosed with severe depression. They were successfully treated with ECT. They were scanned before and after treatment.
“With this new method we were able to find out to what extent more than 25,000 different brain areas communicated with each other and how the brain’s internal communication patterns differed before and after ECT treatment in severely depressed patients,” explained Professor Schwarzbauer, co-author.
One of the strongest criticisms of ECT is that no one knew exactly why it worked. Now they understand that it “reboots” the brain, changing the way different parts of the brain involved in depression communicate with each other. One theory explaining depression is that parts of the brain are ‘hyperconnected’. These areas involve emotional processing and mood change in areas of the brain which are also involved in thinking and concentrating. ECT reduces the connection strength and eliminates the hyperconnectivity.
The research team is exciting to continue their research and patient follow up. Hopefully ECT which is so successful for treating patients who do not respond to drugs and talk therapy, can be used more broadly with less controversy.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, PNAS
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