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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies on major depressive disorder (MDD) have predominantly found short-term electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)-related gray matter volume (GMV) increases, but research on the long-term stability of such changes is missing. Our aim was to investigate long-term GMV changes over a 2-year period after ECT administration and their associations with clinical outcome.
In this nonrandomized longitudinal study, patients with MDD undergoing ECT (n = 17) are assessed three times by structural MRI: Before ECT (t0), after ECT (t1) and 2 years later (t2). A healthy (n = 21) and MDD non-ECT (n = 33) control group are also measured three times within an equivalent time interval. A 3(group) × 3(time) ANOVA on whole-brain level and correlation analyses with clinical outcome variables is performed.
Analyses yield a significant group × time interaction (pFWE < 0.001) resulting from significant volume increases from t0 to t1 and decreases from t1 to t2 in the ECT group, e.g., in limbic areas. There are no effects of time in both control groups. Volume increases from t0 to t1 correlate with immediate and delayed symptom increase, while volume decreases from t1 to t2 correlate with long-term depressive outcome (all p ⩽ 0.049).
Volume increases induced by ECT appear to be a transient phenomenon as volume strongly decreased 2 years after ECT. Short-term volume increases are associated with less symptom improvement suggesting that the antidepressant effect of ECT is not due to volume changes. Larger volume decreases are associated with poorer long-term outcome highlighting the interplay between disease progression and structural changes.
Obesity is highly prevalent and disabling, especially in individuals with severe mental illness including bipolar disorders (BD). The brain is a target organ for both obesity and BD. Yet, we do not understand how cortical brain alterations in BD and obesity interact.
We obtained body mass index (BMI) and MRI-derived regional cortical thickness, surface area from 1231 BD and 1601 control individuals from 13 countries within the ENIGMA-BD Working Group. We jointly modeled the statistical effects of BD and BMI on brain structure using mixed effects and tested for interaction and mediation. We also investigated the impact of medications on the BMI-related associations.
BMI and BD additively impacted the structure of many of the same brain regions. Both BMI and BD were negatively associated with cortical thickness, but not surface area. In most regions the number of jointly used psychiatric medication classes remained associated with lower cortical thickness when controlling for BMI. In a single region, fusiform gyrus, about a third of the negative association between number of jointly used psychiatric medications and cortical thickness was mediated by association between the number of medications and higher BMI.
We confirmed consistent associations between higher BMI and lower cortical thickness, but not surface area, across the cerebral mantle, in regions which were also associated with BD. Higher BMI in people with BD indicated more pronounced brain alterations. BMI is important for understanding the neuroanatomical changes in BD and the effects of psychiatric medications on the brain.
Cognitive dysfunction and brain structural connectivity alterations have been observed in major depressive disorder (MDD). However, little is known about their interrelation. The present study follows a network approach to evaluate alterations in cognition-related brain structural networks.
Cognitive performance of n = 805 healthy and n = 679 acutely depressed or remitted individuals was assessed using 14 cognitive tests aggregated into cognitive factors. The structural connectome was reconstructed from structural and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging. Associations between global connectivity strength and cognitive factors were established using linear regressions. Network-based statistics were applied to identify subnetworks of connections underlying these global-level associations. In exploratory analyses, effects of depression were assessed by evaluating remission status-related group differences in subnetwork-specific connectivity. Partial correlations were employed to directly test the complete triad of cognitive factors, depressive symptom severity, and subnetwork-specific connectivity strength.
All cognitive factors were associated with global connectivity strength. For each cognitive factor, network-based statistics identified a subnetwork of connections, revealing, for example, a subnetwork positively associated with processing speed. Within that subnetwork, acutely depressed patients showed significantly reduced connectivity strength compared to healthy controls. Moreover, connectivity strength in that subnetwork was associated to current depressive symptom severity independent of the previous disease course.
Our study is the first to identify cognition-related structural brain networks in MDD patients, thereby revealing associations between cognitive deficits, depressive symptoms, and reduced structural connectivity. This supports the hypothesis that structural connectome alterations may mediate the association of cognitive deficits and depression severity.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) has been associated with alterations in brain white matter (WM) microstructure. However, diffusion tensor imaging studies in biological relatives have presented contradicting results on WM alterations and their potential as biomarkers for vulnerability or resilience. To shed more light on associations between WM microstructure and resilience to familial risk, analyses including both healthy and depressed relatives of MDD patients are needed.
In a 2 (MDD v. healthy controls, HC) × 2 (familial risk yes v. no) design, we investigated fractional anisotropy (FA) via tract-based spatial statistics in a large well-characterised adult sample (N = 528), with additional controls for childhood maltreatment, a potentially confounding proxy for environmental risk.
Analyses revealed a significant main effect of diagnosis on FA in the forceps minor and the left superior longitudinal fasciculus (ptfce−FWE = 0.009). Furthermore, a significant interaction of diagnosis with familial risk emerged (ptfce−FWE = 0.036) Post-hoc pairwise comparisons showed significantly higher FA, mainly in the forceps minor and right inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, in HC with as compared to HC without familial risk (ptfce−FWE < 0.001), whereas familial risk played no role in MDD patients (ptfce−FWE = 0.797). Adding childhood maltreatment as a covariate, the interaction effect remained stable.
We found widespread increased FA in HC with familial risk for MDD as compared to a HC low-risk sample. The significant effect of risk on FA was present only in HC, but not in the MDD sample. These alterations might reflect compensatory neural mechanisms in healthy adults at risk for MDD potentially associated with resilience.
Patients with bipolar disorder (BD) show reduced fractional anisotropy (FA) compared to patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). Little is known about whether these differences are mood state-independent or influenced by acute symptom severity. Therefore, the aim of this study was (1) to replicate abnormalities in white matter microstructure in BD v. MDD and (2) to investigate whether these vary across depressed, euthymic, and manic mood.
In this cross-sectional diffusion tensor imaging study, n = 136 patients with BD were compared to age- and sex-matched MDD patients and healthy controls (HC) (n = 136 each). Differences in FA were investigated using tract-based spatial statistics. Using interaction models, the influence of acute symptom severity and mood state on the differences between patient groups were tested.
Analyses revealed a main effect of diagnosis on FA across all three groups (ptfce-FWE = 0.003). BD patients showed reduced FA compared to both MDD (ptfce-FWE = 0.005) and HC (ptfce-FWE < 0.001) in large bilateral clusters. These consisted of several white matter tracts previously described in the literature, including commissural, association, and projection tracts. There were no significant interaction effects between diagnosis and symptom severity or mood state (all ptfce-FWE > 0.704).
Results indicated that the difference between BD and MDD was independent of depressive and manic symptom severity and mood state. Disruptions in white matter microstructure in BD might be a trait effect of the disorder. The potential of FA values to be used as a biomarker to differentiate BD from MDD should be further addressed in future studies using longitudinal designs.
Childhood maltreatment (CM) represents a potent risk factor for major depressive disorder (MDD), including poorer treatment response. Altered resting-state connectivity in the fronto-limbic system has been reported in maltreated individuals. However, previous results in smaller samples differ largely regarding localization and direction of effects.
We included healthy and depressed samples [n = 624 participants with MDD; n = 701 healthy control (HC) participants] that underwent resting-state functional MRI measurements and provided retrospective self-reports of maltreatment using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. A-priori defined regions of interest [ROI; amygdala, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)] were used to calculate seed-to-voxel connectivities.
No significant associations between maltreatment and resting-state connectivity of any ROI were found across MDD and HC participants and no interaction effect with diagnosis became significant. Investigating MDD patients only yielded maltreatment-associated increased connectivity between the amygdala and dorsolateral frontal areas [pFDR < 0.001; η2partial = 0.050; 95%-CI (0.023–0.085)]. This effect was robust across various sensitivity analyses and was associated with concurrent and previous symptom severity. Particularly strong amygdala-frontal associations with maltreatment were observed in acutely depressed individuals [n = 264; pFDR < 0.001; η2partial = 0.091; 95%-CI (0.038–0.166)). Weaker evidence – not surviving correction for multiple ROI analyses – was found for altered supracallosal ACC connectivity in HC individuals associated with maltreatment.
The majority of previous resting-state connectivity correlates of CM could not be replicated in this large-scale study. The strongest evidence was found for clinically relevant maltreatment associations with altered adult amygdala-dorsolateral frontal connectivity in depression. Future studies should explore the relevance of this pathway for a maltreated subgroup of MDD patients.
Relapses in major depression are frequent and are associated with a high burden of disease. Although short-term studies suggest a normalisation of depression-associated brain functional alterations directly after treatment, long-term investigations are sparse.
To examine brain function during negative emotion processing in association with course of illness over a 2-year span.
In this prospective case–control study, 72 in-patients with current depression and 42 healthy controls were investigated during a negative emotional face processing paradigm, at baseline and after 2 years. According to their course of illness during the study interval, patients were divided into subgroups (n = 25 no-relapse, n = 47 relapse). The differential changes in brain activity were investigated by a group × time analysis of covariance for the amygdala, hippocampus, insula and at whole-brain level.
A significant relapse × time interaction emerged within the amygdala (PTFCE-FWE = 0.011), insula (PTFCE-FWE = 0.001) and at the whole-brain level mainly in the temporal and prefrontal cortex (PTFCE-FWE = 0.027), resulting from activity increases within the no-relapse group, whereas in the relapse group, activity decreased during the study interval. At baseline, the no-relapse group showed amygdala, hippocampus and insula hypoactivity compared with healthy controls and the relapse group.
This study reveals course of illness-associated activity changes in emotion processing areas. Patients in full remission show a normalisation of their baseline hypo-responsiveness to the activation level of healthy controls after 2 years. Brain function during emotion processing could further serve as a potential predictive marker for future relapse.
Studying phenotypic and genetic characteristics of age at onset (AAO) and polarity at onset (PAO) in bipolar disorder can provide new insights into disease pathology and facilitate the development of screening tools.
To examine the genetic architecture of AAO and PAO and their association with bipolar disorder disease characteristics.
Genome-wide association studies (GWASs) and polygenic score (PGS) analyses of AAO (n = 12 977) and PAO (n = 6773) were conducted in patients with bipolar disorder from 34 cohorts and a replication sample (n = 2237). The association of onset with disease characteristics was investigated in two of these cohorts.
Earlier AAO was associated with a higher probability of psychotic symptoms, suicidality, lower educational attainment, not living together and fewer episodes. Depressive onset correlated with suicidality and manic onset correlated with delusions and manic episodes. Systematic differences in AAO between cohorts and continents of origin were observed. This was also reflected in single-nucleotide variant-based heritability estimates, with higher heritabilities for stricter onset definitions. Increased PGS for autism spectrum disorder (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), major depression (β = −0.34 years, s.e. = 0.08), schizophrenia (β = −0.39 years, s.e. = 0.08), and educational attainment (β = −0.31 years, s.e. = 0.08) were associated with an earlier AAO. The AAO GWAS identified one significant locus, but this finding did not replicate. Neither GWAS nor PGS analyses yielded significant associations with PAO.
AAO and PAO are associated with indicators of bipolar disorder severity. Individuals with an earlier onset show an increased polygenic liability for a broad spectrum of psychiatric traits. Systematic differences in AAO across cohorts, continents and phenotype definitions introduce significant heterogeneity, affecting analyses.
Two prominent risk factors for major depressive disorder (MDD) are childhood maltreatment (CM) and familial risk for MDD. Despite having these risk factors, there are individuals who maintain mental health, i.e. are resilient, whereas others develop MDD. It is unclear which brain morphological alterations are associated with this kind of resilience. Interaction analyses of risk and diagnosis status are needed that can account for complex adaptation processes, to identify neural correlates of resilience.
We analyzed brain structural data (3T magnetic resonance imaging) by means of voxel-based morphometry (CAT12 toolbox), using a 2 × 2 design, comparing four groups (N = 804) that differed in diagnosis (healthy v. MDD) and risk profiles (low-risk, i.e. absence of CM and familial risk v. high-risk, i.e. presence of both CM and familial risk). Using regions of interest (ROIs) from the literature, we conducted an interaction analysis of risk and diagnosis status.
Volume in the left middle frontal gyrus (MFG), part of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), was significantly higher in healthy high-risk individuals. There were no significant results for the bilateral superior frontal gyri, frontal poles, pars orbitalis of the inferior frontal gyri, and the right MFG.
The healthy high-risk group had significantly higher volumes in the left DLPFC compared to all other groups. The DLPFC is implicated in cognitive and emotional processes, and higher volume in this area might aid high-risk individuals in adaptive coping in order to maintain mental health. This increased volume might therefore constitute a neural correlate of resilience to MDD in high risk.
Eighty percent of all patients suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) relapse at least once in their lifetime. Thus, understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of the course of MDD is of utmost importance. A detrimental course of illness in MDD was most consistently associated with superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) fiber integrity. As similar associations were, however, found between SLF fiber integrity and acute symptomatology, this study attempts to disentangle associations attributed to current depression from long-term course of illness.
A total of 531 patients suffering from acute (N = 250) or remitted (N = 281) MDD from the FOR2107-cohort were analyzed in this cross-sectional study using tract-based spatial statistics for diffusion tensor imaging. First, the effects of disease state (acute v. remitted), current symptom severity (BDI-score) and course of illness (number of hospitalizations) on fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), radial diffusivity (RD), and axial diffusivity were analyzed separately. Second, disease state and BDI-scores were analyzed in conjunction with the number of hospitalizations to disentangle their effects.
Disease state (pFWE < 0.042) and number of hospitalizations (pFWE< 0.032) were associated with decreased FA and increased MD and RD in the bilateral SLF. A trend was found for the BDI-score (pFWE > 0.067). When analyzed simultaneously only the effect of course of illness remained significant (pFWE < 0.040) mapping to the right SLF.
Decreased FA and increased MD and RD values in the SLF are associated with more hospitalizations when controlling for current psychopathology. SLF fiber integrity could reflect cumulative illness burden at a neurobiological level and should be targeted in future longitudinal analyses.
The general understanding of the ‘vulnerability–stress model’ of mental disorders neglects the modifying impact of resilience-increasing factors such as coping ability.
Probing a conceptual framework integrating both adverse events and coping factors in an extended ‘vulnerability–stress–coping model’ of mental disorders, the effects of functional neuropeptide S receptor gene (NPSR1) variation (G), early adversity (E) and coping factors (C) on anxiety were addressed in a three-dimensional G × E × C model.
In two independent samples of healthy probands (discovery: n = 1403; replication: n = 630), the interaction of NPSR1 rs324981, childhood trauma (Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, CTQ) and general self-efficacy as a measure of coping ability (General Self-Efficacy Scale, GSE) on trait anxiety (State-Trait Anxiety Inventory) was investigated via hierarchical multiple regression analyses.
In both samples, trait anxiety differed as a function of NPSR1 genotype, CTQ and GSE score (discovery: β = 0.129, P = 3.938 × 10−8; replication: β = 0.102, P = 0.020). In A allele carriers, the relationship between childhood trauma and anxiety was moderated by general self-efficacy: higher self-efficacy and childhood trauma resulted in low anxiety scores, and lower self-efficacy and childhood trauma in higher anxiety levels. In turn, TT homozygotes displayed increased anxiety as a function of childhood adversity unaffected by general self-efficacy.
Functional NPSR1 variation and childhood trauma are suggested as prime moderators in the vulnerability–stress model of anxiety, further modified by the protective effect of self-efficacy. This G × E × C approach – introducing coping as an additional dimension further shaping a G × E risk constellation, thus suggesting a three-dimensional ‘vulnerability–stress–coping model’ of mental disorders – might inform targeted preventive or therapeutic interventions strengthening coping ability to promote resilient functioning.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a fast-acting intervention for major depressive disorder. Previous studies indicated neurotrophic effects following ECT that might contribute to changes in white matter brain structure. We investigated the influence of ECT in a non-randomized prospective study focusing on white matter changes over time.
Twenty-nine severely depressed patients receiving ECT in addition to inpatient treatment, 69 severely depressed patients with inpatient treatment (NON-ECT) and 52 healthy controls (HC) took part in a non-randomized prospective study. Participants were scanned twice, approximately 6 weeks apart, using diffusion tensor imaging, applying tract-based spatial statistics. Additional correlational analyses were conducted in the ECT subsample to investigate the effects of seizure duration and therapeutic response.
Mean diffusivity (MD) increased after ECT in the right hemisphere, which was an ECT-group-specific effect. Seizure duration was associated with decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) following ECT. Longitudinal changes in ECT were not associated with therapy response. However, within the ECT group only, baseline FA was positively and MD negatively associated with post-ECT symptomatology.
Our data suggest that ECT changes white matter integrity, possibly reflecting increased permeability of the blood–brain barrier, resulting in disturbed communication of fibers. Further, baseline diffusion metrics were associated with therapy response. Coherent fiber structure could be a prerequisite for a generalized seizure and inhibitory brain signaling necessary to successfully inhibit increased seizure activity.
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