(HealthDay News) – The self-reported importance of religion or spirituality is associated with the thickness of certain brain regions, according to research published online Dec. 25 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Lisa Miller, PhD, from Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues conducted a retrospective analysis involving 103 adults, aged 18–54 years, who were second- or third-generation offspring of depressed (high familial risk) or nondepressed (low familial risk) probands. During a five-year period, religious or spiritual importance and church attendance were assessed twice. At the second time point, cortical thickness was measured on anatomical images obtained via magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers found that, independent of familial depressive risk, the importance of religion or spirituality, but not church attendance, correlated with thicker cortices in the left and right parietal and occipital regions, the right hemisphere mesial frontal lobe, and the left hemisphere cuneus and precuneus. Compared with the low-risk group, the effects of importance on cortical thickness were significantly stronger in the high-risk group, particularly in the mesial wall of the left hemisphere, the region in which a thinner cortex was previously linked to familial risk of depressive illness.

“A thicker cortex associated with a high importance of religion or spirituality may confer resilience to the development of depressive illness in individuals at high familial risk for major depression,” the authors conclude.

One author disclosed holding a patent relating to spectral resolution enhancement of magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging.

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