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Approved Research

The effect of childhood trauma, family history, and lifetime psychopathology on structural and functional brain correlates.

Principal Investigator: Ms Franziska Goer
Approved Research ID: 53656
Approval date: January 12th 2021

Lay summary

Aims/Scientific Rationale: The main aim of the study is to investigate how early life adversity and family history of depression may affect the brain. Both early life stress (including emotional and physical neglect and physical, sexual and emotional abuse) and a family history of depression are known risk factors of developing depression. Previous research has shown that depression is associated with various changes in the brain, including brain structure, connectivity, and function. Less is known however, whether these brain abnormalities are a precursor that may be critical in the development of depression, or a symptom thereof. Analyzing whether these differences are present in high risk states (i.e. individuals with a heightened risk of depression due to environmental and/or genetic risk factors) will allow us to investigate this question. This will also allow us to determine whether depression independently contributes to changes in the brain or whether this may be partially explained by having certain risk factors (such as childhood trauma and family history). 

Previous research in this area has been limited by small sample sizes and differing methodologies resulting in inconsistent findings. The size of the Biobank dataset would allow for a unique comprehensive assessment and help both replicate previous findings in this area as well as shed new light on the potential contribution of risk factors on neural changes associated with depression.

Project Duration: The proposed project will take approximately 18 months to complete during which we will perform several analyses to understand the complex inter-relationships between childhood trauma, family history, and depression and neural correlates.

Public Health Impact: Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and constitutes a large share of the global burden of disease. This study will provide valuable information on how environmental and familial risk factors for depression may affect brain structure and function. This has significant clinical implications as it may help identify which risk factors could be targeted for early intervention to decrease the chance of developing depression and thereby inform public health policy. Successful early intervention would decrease both the societal cost of depression (e.g. treatment costs and loss of work time productivity) and improve individuals' well-being and quality of life.