Unlocking a mystery deep within our brains - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Unlocking a mystery deep within our brains

6 Oct 2020

Could a part of your brain known to control movement also play a role in your mental wellbeing?

The basal ganglia is situated deep within your brain – almost at its centre. It is made up mostly of grey matter and is well known to help control your body’s motor functions, including speech and movement.

What isn’t widely understood, however, is how the basal ganglia may be related to mood and emotions.

PhD candidate Amanda Boyes is on a mission to change that, with the help of Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) participants, by investigating if the size of the basal ganglia is linked to the mental wellbeing of young people.

Every four months, our LABS participants take part in an MRI brain scan and a wellbeing questionnaire. In doing so, they give the LABS team, including Amanda, valuable insights into the adolescent brain.

For Amanda’s study, the brain scan allows her to measure the size of a participant’s basal ganglia, and she can link this size to the same participant’s wellbeing through their questionnaire answers.

Over time, investigating these links will reveal any associations between the two factors.

Amanda said the questionnaire asked about areas of wellbeing that can help young people thrive, such as self-worth, positivity, composure and satisfaction with life.

“We hope the study will give clues about the differences between the brains of young people who mentally flourish and cope well with stress or adversity, and the brains of young people at risk of mental ill-health,” she said.

Amanda said a big strength of LABS was that the same group of participants were scanned in the same MRI scanner every four months.

“This may help identify differences that have previously been difficult to find, which is very exciting,” she said.

“My research is only possible as a result of the time and commitment of LABS participants, and I am very grateful for everyone who has joined the study.”

Amanda said her passion for finding ways to prevent mental ill-health in young people motivated her to start her PhD through LABS.

The self-confessed “stats-nerd” recently submitted her first PhD paper looking at data from LABS participants’ first visit.

Amanda received a prestigious Australian Government Research Training Program scholarship to undertake her PhD.

Her study is one of many being conducted as a part of the LABS program, thanks to our valuable participants.

PhD candidate and LABS team member Amanda Boyes
PhD candidate and LABS team member Amanda Boyes
The basal ganglia
The colours in this image represent different sections of the basal ganglia, which Amanda is researching as a part of her work with the Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study.