From ScienceDaily (there is no the in the original text):

To investigate whether brain inflammation was increased in people during clinical depression, Dr. Meyer and his team conducted brain scans on 20 patients with depression but who were otherwise healthy and 20 healthy control participants using a brain imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET). Results showed a significant elevation of brain inflammation in (the) participants with depression.

If we use the, would this mean that significant elevation was seen "in each of the 20 depressed participants", or could it still mean "in the participants with depression, on average" (allowing for no elevation in some)?

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    I don't think it's clear-cut either way. You could say "in the group with depression" and skirt the issue. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 29 '15 at 15:43
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    If we rearranged it to "Participants with depression showed a significant elevation of inflammation." do we sense the missing "the"? I think this is an interesting question because on one hand, I somewhat expect "the" to be omitted in this type of article and on the other, it doesn't bother me at all for it to be added and it doesn't change the meaning. Maybe it is more a matter of style than grammar and meaning? – ColleenV Jan 29 '15 at 20:32

Well, it comes down to the use of the zero-article versus the use of the definite article.

In simplest terms, the makes a definite reference, signifying you know which participants I am talking about.

Whether the has to apply to each individual participant, I am not sure.

It surely applies to participants plural, which to me seems to mean as a group.

It's been said before (notice the wonderful passive tense that does not require an actor!) that the before a plural count noun refers to all the "things" unless stated otherwise. This may be valid in some contexts but not all. For example, here it is a group of 20, in the other question it was to a relatively limited number of chemical companies.

It seems that for a larger group, not even all has to include each, at least not grammatically: (All) the residents of New York walk and talk fast seems to me a generalization even with all. While Each of the residents of New York walk and talk fast certainly seems like a reference to each individual citizen.

Thus, if you mean each, write each!

And there is a reason that the article refrained from using the. The zero-article certainly allows not much specific to be said about each individual participant in the referenced group. I am just not sure how much the has to attribute to (rather than just reference) each participant in the group. I think the use of the at least makes the statement possibly ambiguous. I wish I had a canonical answer.

ETA: The sentence can be rearraged to the following without a change in meaning, I think:

It is in (the) participants with depression that results showed a significant elevation of brain inflammation

What strikes me is is. Does this mean inside the participants (ie in their brains) or amongst or some other meaning of in?

I agree that it could be a matter of style. I think that the the refers to the group as an aggregate and that nothing definite can be said about each individual participant.

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    I deprecate this answer and disavow/disallow that it actually says anything useful. – user6951 Jan 29 '15 at 20:42

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