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Exploring the Mind: Brynlee Cardall’s Literature Review on the Connection Between Depression and Addiction

Brynlee Cardall (NEURO ’25) recently discovered a potential relationship between addiction and depression. After parsing through various secondary research, Cardall realized depression and addiction share similar mechanisms. The chemistry of depression is under debate; depression parallels addiction regarding reward-learning. Cardall found that stress interferes with these systems very similarly and could perhaps be the culprit of various psychiatric symptoms. Upon discovering these links, Cardall wrote a literature review that was featured in the most recent issue of Chiasm, BYU Neuroscience’s undergraduate research journal.

A girl in a beige jacket and black dress smiles in front of a presentation board.
Photo by Brynlee Cardall

Cardall also found that the habenula, a region in the brain that interprets reward signals, anxiety, and stress, can potentially be linked to depressive episodes. The habenula is close to the pineal gland, and both regions are active during meditative practices. Meditation helps regulate the number of serotonin receptors in the brain and can help combat depression. Cardall wants to add to existing research on how the habenula impacts depression to determine if depression is a circuitry or reward learning issue rather than a serotonin issue. If she can prove this theory, she could show that medication that increases serotonin activity is not the only way to treat depression. Since these medications can be expensive, a habenula link to depression would be helpful to many people.

As she has battled depression, Cardall has found that she has “an inner drive, like an inner fight that when something is hard I push back even stronger.” She shares how she has used this inner drive to help with her research: “There's a lot I don't understand, and there's a lot that makes me feel very small. Getting that fire and drive to work even harder and try to understand these huge concepts has given me a greater sense of purpose.”

When something is hard I push back even stronger.
Brynlee Cardall

Cardall’s literature review will contribute to her future career, where she intends to continue looking into depression’s causes and neural links while also conducting research to help those with autism. She is currently considering neuropsychiatry and autism studies for her master’s degree. She wants to better understand autism’s biological basis and end reliance on Pavlovian systems of encouragement to help people on the autism spectrum.

In addition to her publication in Chiasm, Cardall also presented at the Snowbird neuroscience conference. The conference featured undergraduate research in labs across the state of Utah. Cardall presented research from her time in Dr. Parrish’s lab studying depolarization in zebrafish (depolarization is similar to migraines).

A girl in a coat and dress clothes stands in the middle of a European city square.
Photo by Brynlee Cardall

Outside of neuroscience, Cardall enjoys playing tennis, hiking, rock climbing, painting, and learning languages. She is fluent in Slovak and Czech, but is also learning American Sign Language, Spanish, and Russian. This upcoming summer, Cardall will return to the Czech Republic (Czechia) to teach psychology in a local school.

In her own personal battle with depression, Cardall has found comfort in the gospel of Jesus Christ: “I feel I had a testimony before all of this struggle, but I really didn't have a connection with Christ. I'm getting to know Him in a more personal way,” she says. “That's where the Atonement actually applies to me, where it's not repentance, but it's that He experienced everything that I experience.”

To read Cardall’s literature review, and other fascinating undergraduate neuroscience studies, go to the Neuroscience Center in S-192 in the Eyring Science Center.