Depression unplugs brain’s ‘hate circuit’

U. WARWICK (UK) — A new study using MRI scans shows that depression affects several areas of the brain, including the one that controls feelings of hatred.

For the new research, reported in Molecular Psychiatry, scientists scanned brain activity in 39 depressed people (23 female 16 male) and 37 control subjects who were not depressed (14 female 23 male) and found the brain’s “hate circuit” is uncoupled in a significant number of depressed patients.

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Other major changes occurred in circuits related to risk and action responses, reward and emotion, attention, and memory processing.

The researchers found that in the depressed subjects:

  • The hate circuits were 92 percent likely to be decoupled
  • The risk/action circuit was 92 percent likely to be decoupled
  • The emotion/reward circuit was 82 percent likely to be decoupled

The hate circuit—involving the superior frontal gyrus, insula, and putamen—was first clearly identified in 2008 by Semir Zeki, a professor at University College London, who found that a circuit which seemed to connect the three regions in the brain when test subjects were shown pictures of people they hated.

“The results are clear but at first sight are puzzling as we know that depression is often characterized by intense self-loathing and there is no obvious indication that depressives are less prone to hate others,” says Jianfeng Feng, professor of computer science at the University of Warwick.

“One possibility is that the uncoupling of this hate circuit could be associated with impaired ability to control and learn from social or other situations, which provoke feelings of hate towards self or others.

“This in turn could lead to an inability to deal appropriately with feelings of hate and an increased likelihood of both uncontrolled self-loathing and withdrawal from social interactions. It may be that this is a neurological indication that is more normal to have occasion to hate others rather than hate ourselves.”

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