Michael Gaffrey, Ph.D.

Fellow in Child & Adolescent Depression

Project Details


Joan L. Luby, M.D.
Deanna M. Barch, Ph.D.


Washington University in St. Louis


Neural Circuitry of Preschool Onset Major Depressive Disorder


Neural Circuitry of Preschool Onset Major Depressive Disorder


Depression is one of the most common and serious mental health issues facing society today. Recently, the World Health Organization suggested that depression will be the single largest societal and economic burden out of all health conditions by 2030. Despite recognition of this growing epidemic very little is known about how depression develops. The current study seeks to begin addressing this issue by using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity while depressed and healthy preschoolers view images of different facial expressions of emotion.

Based on prior research and preliminary results, it is hypothesized that depression severity will correlate with greater activity in brain areas linked to displays of negative emotion, such as the amygdala. In addition, it is hypothesized that, like older children and adults, preschoolers with depression will show greater activity in these same brain areas when compared to their similarly aged healthy peers. By integrating data gathered from clinical assessments and during the described fMRI sessions, Dr. Gaffrey will be able to improve our understanding of brain function in early childhood depression and determine how it compares to brain function in depressed older children and adults.

This study seeks to initiate a new and unique line of research into the brain activity of depressed preschoolers as a means of understanding the developmental neurobiology of Major Depressive Disorder.  By doing so, Dr. Gaffrey hopes that new avenues for treatment development and prevention efforts will open and be of benefit during this time of increased neuroplasticity.

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