Depression is common among those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and the reason may be directly related to the way MS acts on the brain. MS sufferers are 50 percent more likely to suffer ongoing depression throughout their lives, and it’s possible that brain atrophy is the cause of the increasing feelings of despair during the course of the disease.

Most researchers have operated under the assumption that the depression people with MS have is directly related to their reaction to the debilitating disease. But new research shows that the depression is more than a psychological reaction and may in fact be a symptom of the MS.

In the UCLA study conducted by Dr. Nancy Sicotte and Dr. Stefan Gold, it was discovered that the part of the brain affected is a specific part of the hippocampus that regulates mood, memory, and several other functions, making the cause of the depression more physical than psychological.

In the study, people with MS were given high resolution MRI brain scans and those scans were compared to scans of healthy, non-MS suffering individuals. The scans helped the researchers discover three specific areas of the hippocampus that seem to be targeted by MS and appeared smaller than in healthy brains. There was also a connection between the atrophy in the hippocampus and an increased level of activity in an area of the brain that controls the body’s reaction to stress.

Gold explained, “Depression is one of the most common symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis. It impacts cognitive function, quality of life, work performance and treatment compliance. Worst of all, it’s also one of the strongest predictors of suicide.”

Additional research is planned to further explore the connection in order to determine if treatment options are available, but this is the first study of its kind to use living participants with Multiple Sclerosis.