Women may be Hard-Wired for Depression

Female brain chemistry may create a predisposition for depression

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In the battle of the sexes, women clearly lose when it comes to depression. Women have twice the rates of depressive disorders than men, and the medical and psychological communities have been trying to figure out why for years.

The idea that women are more hard-wired, through biochemistry in the brain, for depression has recently gotten some scientific backing.

"Women may be more susceptible to depression."

A research discovery at the University of Pittsburgh reveals molecular-level changes in the brains of women with major depressive disorder. This finding supports the theory that women's brains are predisposed to depression more than men's. Women have a 20 percent chance of developing depression in their lifetimes, compared to a 12 percent chance for men.

Etienne Sibille, Ph.D, senior author of the study, says that the discovery links two hypotheses of the biological mechanisms of depression. One is a lower level of a particular brain biochemical; the other is a reduction of a key brain neurotransmitter.

Sibille's team examined post-mortem brain tissue samples of 21 women with depression, and 21 women with no history of the disorder. The depressed women had genetic defects in particular brain cells of the amygdala, the brain region involved in emotion. The non-depressed women did not have the same defects.

Researchers tested mice to run a proof-of-concept in the study; they were able to mirror the same genetic deficits as the human depressed brain.

“It seemed to us that if there were molecular changes in the depressed brain, we might be able to better identify them in samples that come from females,” Sibille said. He added that the findings provide a better understanding of this debilitating psychiatric illness.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, and findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 22, 2011
Last Updated:
October 1, 2011