According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), an estimated 21 million U.S. adults experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2021.
Despite the prevalence of depression across the country, though, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. A new groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at Stanford Medicine highlights this reality.
The study uncovered a new category of depression known as the “cognitive biotype,” which impacts 27% of depressed patients and cannot be successfully treated using commonly prescribed antidepressants.
Through cognitive tasks, the team discovered that patients with this biotype had difficulty displaying self-control, planning ahead, suppressing inappropriate behavior, and maintaining focus in the presence of distractions.
Brain imaging tests also revealed that the patients had decreased brain activity in two specific regions responsible for the successful completion of such tasks.
However, depression has been historically defined as a mood disorder, pushing doctors to prescribe antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to target serotonin production. Yet, among patients with cognitive dysfunction, these drugs are much less effective.
The Stanford Medicine team conducted this study as part of a larger effort to pinpoint treatments that can target depression biotypes.
“One of the big challenges is to find a new way to address what is currently a trial-and-error process so that more people can get better sooner,” said Leanne Williams, the study’s senior author.
“Bringing in these objective cognitive measures like imaging will make sure we’re not using the same treatment on every patient.”