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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.
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.
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.
MRI-derived cortical folding measures are an indicator of largely genetically driven early developmental processes. However, the effects of genetic risk for major mental disorders on early brain development are not well understood.
We extracted cortical complexity values from structural MRI data of 580 healthy participants using the CAT12 toolbox. Polygenic risk scores (PRS) for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and cross-disorder (incorporating cumulative genetic risk for depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) were computed and used in separate general linear models with cortical complexity as the regressand. In brain regions that showed a significant association between polygenic risk for mental disorders and cortical complexity, volume of interest (VOI)/region of interest (ROI) analyses were conducted to investigate additional changes in their volume and cortical thickness.
The PRS for depression was associated with cortical complexity in the right orbitofrontal cortex (right hemisphere: p = 0.006). A subsequent VOI/ROI analysis showed no association between polygenic risk for depression and either grey matter volume or cortical thickness. We found no associations between cortical complexity and polygenic risk for either schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychiatric cross-disorder when correcting for multiple testing.
Changes in cortical complexity associated with polygenic risk for depression might facilitate well-established volume changes in orbitofrontal cortices in depression. Despite the absence of psychopathology, changed cortical complexity that parallels polygenic risk for depression might also change reward systems, which are also structurally affected in patients with depressive syndrome.
Subclinical psychotic-like experiences (PLE), resembling key symptoms of psychotic disorders, are common throughout the general population and possibly associated with psychosis risk. There is evidence that such symptoms are also associated with structural brain changes.
In 672 healthy individuals, we assessed PLE and associated distress with the symptom-checklist-90R (SCL-90R) scales ‘schizotypal signs’ (STS) and ‘schizophrenia nuclear symptoms’ (SNS) and analysed associations with voxel- and surfaced-based brain structural parameters derived from structural magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T with CAT12.
For SNS, we found a positive correlation with the volume in the left superior parietal lobule and the precuneus, and a negative correlation with the volume in the right inferior temporal gyrus [p < 0.05 cluster-level Family Wise Error (FWE-corrected]. For STS, we found a negative correlation with the volume of the left and right precentral gyrus (p < 0.05 cluster-level FWE-corrected). Surface-based analyses did not detect any significant clusters with the chosen statistical threshold of p < 0.05. However, in exploratory analyses (p < 0.001, uncorrected), we found a positive correlation of SNS with gyrification in the left insula and rostral middle frontal gyrus and of STS with the left precuneus and insula, as well as a negative correlation of STS with gyrification in the left temporal pole.
Our results show that brain structures in areas implicated in schizophrenia are also related to PLE and its associated distress in healthy individuals. This pattern supports a dimensional model of the neural correlates of symptoms of the psychotic spectrum.
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.
Patients with major depression show reduced hippocampal volume compared to healthy controls. However, the contribution of patients’ cumulative illness severity to hippocampal volume has rarely been investigated. It was the aim of our study to find a composite score of cumulative illness severity that is associated with hippocampal volume in depression.
We estimated hippocampal gray matter volume using 3-tesla brain magnetic resonance imaging in 213 inpatients with acute major depression according to DSM-IV criteria (employing the SCID interview) and 213 healthy controls. Patients’ cumulative illness severity was ascertained by six clinical variables via structured clinical interviews. A principal component analysis was conducted to identify components reflecting cumulative illness severity. Regression analyses and a voxel-based morphometry approach were used to investigate the influence of patients’ individual component scores on hippocampal volume.
Principal component analysis yielded two main components of cumulative illness severity: Hospitalization and Duration of Illness. While the component Hospitalization incorporated information from the intensity of inpatient treatment, the component Duration of Illness was based on the duration and frequency of illness episodes. We could demonstrate a significant inverse association of patients’ Hospitalization component scores with bilateral hippocampal gray matter volume. This relationship was not found for Duration of Illness component scores.
Variables associated with patients’ history of psychiatric hospitalization seem to be accurate predictors of hippocampal volume in major depression and reliable estimators of patients’ cumulative illness severity. Future studies should pay attention to these measures when investigating hippocampal volume changes in major depression.
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