HDRF founder Audrey Gruss have experienced the devastation of depression - her mother suffered from the enigmatic mood disorder most of her adult life, misdiagnosed, over-medicated and even treated with electroconvulsive "shock" therapy during the 1960s and 70s.
When her mother died in 2005, Gruss vowed to find out why doctors couldn't "do more to make her whole."
In 2006, Gruss founded HDRF, named for her mother, and dedicated to using the psychology of emotion and neuroscience to better diagnose - and perhaps one day cure - the disorder.
The new study, by researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center, Columbia University and Albert Einstein Medical Center in New York City "meshed perfectly" with Gruss's goals.
"Freud comes in to this. He blamed everything on the mother and it turns out the mother is absolutely the strongest gauge of depression you have," ABC News quoted co-author and psychiatrist Dr. Igor Galynker of Beth Israel Medical Center as saying.
The researchers studied 28 young women - 14 who suffered from mild to moderate depression and 14 who did not.
The women's brains were scanned in an MRI machine as they were each shown four photos: a friend, a younger female stranger, an older woman they did not know and their mother.
In the women who were depressed, the photo of mother elicited a strong sadness response in the brain. The scans were able to predict depression in about 90 percent of the women.
The most pronounced brain changes were seen in the left anterior paracingulate gyrus, which coordinates sensory output with emotions.
"The area is involved in processing your affect and how you feel. This is also the area that gets activated when you are in conflict or social interactions," said Galynker.
"Our hypothesis is that the brains in people who were sad are activated more to a sad picture. When you are depressed you interpret everything in a way that is sad. The glass is always half empty," he added.
The study published in the December issue of the journal Plos ONE.