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Neural peek at anxious, depressed kids

The amygdala, an almond-shaped brain structure that plays an important role in evaluating the emotional significance of daily events, malfunctions in children with severe symptoms of either anxiety or depression, according to preliminary brain-scan data.

Compared with children who have no psychiatric ailments, youngsters with anxiety disorders display an exaggerated amygdala response to fearful faces, whereas depressed kids show a blunted amygdala reaction to the same faces, reports a team led by psychologist Kathleen M. Thomas of Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City.

These findings, which appear in the November Archives of General Psychiatry, follow reports of unusual amygdala activity in adults with anxiety or depression.

For instance, heightened amygdala activity occurs in people with post-traumatic stress disorder when they view upsetting images. Other reports find elevated amygdala activity in depressed adults at rest.

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