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Spot Check: Mental Illnesses That Occur Together May Come from the Same Brain Regions

As anyone who’s ever suffered from depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental illness can tell you, mood and other psychological disorders tend to travel in packs. Yet they continue to be treated as if they’re total loners.

That may be about to change.
Duke University researchers scanned the brains of about 1200 students to determine that the same regions—the cerebellum and the pons—are irregularly structured in individuals experiencing different psychological symptoms.

The cerebellum or “little brain” regulates balance and posture, coordination of voluntary movements, motor learning, and cognitive functioning. According to Ahmad Hariri, one of the neuroscientists who conducted the Duke research, it is a region that neuropsychiatric researchers do not study enough.

The pons is involved with sensory analysis and motor control and contains structures that are connected to the cerebellum. It also contains structures that regulate consciousness and the sleep cycle.

Since the rate of comorbidity for psychological disorders and mental illnesses is so high, it makes sense that if the brains of those affected have structural abnormalities in common, these problems could be attacked at their roots instead of as individual problems.
It’s obvious that researchers need to take these findings to other populations and try to replicate them. All those whose brains they studied were Duke students, a very specific group of test subjects. It’s hard to deny however, that the results of their work are intriguing.