Placebo response not all in the mind

Imaging the brain during drug or placebo treatment for depression shows different but similarly effective responses.

Scott Gottlieb(sg2@doc.mssm.edu)
Jan 10, 2002

NEW YORK — A new brain imaging technique has revealed that patients with depression have clear physical responses to both drugs and placebos, but the responses are dramatically different, perhaps explaining how the 'placebo effect' works.

The new technique — quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG) — developed at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), was used to examine brain electrical activity in patients being treated for depression with placebo. These scans were compared with scans from other patients treated with antidepressant medication. Andrew Leuchter and colleagues used the imaging technique to examine QEEG power and cordance — a new measure that reflects cerebral perfusion and which is sensitive to the effect of antidepressant medication (Am J Psychiatry 2002, 159:122-129).

Patients who responded to placebo showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, while those who responded to standard antidepressant medication showed suppressed activity in that area. Researchers in...

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