Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the treatment of choice for severe mental illness including treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Increases in volume of the hippocampus and amygdala following ECT have consistently been reported.
To investigate neuroplastic changes after ECT in specific hippocampal subfields and amygdala nuclei using high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov – NCT02379767).
MRI scans were carried out in 14 patients (11 women, 46.9 years (s.d. = 8.1)) with unipolar TRD twice before and once after a series of right unilateral ECT in a pre–post study design. Volumes of subcortical structures, including subfields of the hippocampus and amygdala, and cortical thickness were extracted using FreeSurfer. The effect of ECT was tested using repeated-measures ANOVA. Correlations of imaging and clinical parameters were explored.
Increases in volume of the right hippocampus by 139.4 mm3 (s.d. = 34.9), right amygdala by 82.3 mm3 (s.d. = 43.9) and right putamen by 73.9 mm3 (s.d. = 77.0) were observed. These changes were localised in the basal and lateral nuclei, and the corticoamygdaloid transition area of the amygdala, the hippocampal–amygdaloid transition area and the granule cell and molecular layer of the dentate gyrus. Cortical thickness increased in the temporal, parietal and insular cortices of the right hemisphere.
Following ECT structural changes were observed in hippocampal subfields and amygdala nuclei that are specifically implicated in the pathophysiology of depression and stress-related disorders and retain a high potential for neuroplasticity in adulthood.
Declaration of interest
S.K. has received grants/research support, consulting fees and/or honoraria within the past 3 years from Angelini, AOP Orphan Pharmaceuticals AG, AstraZeneca, Celegne GmbH, Eli Lilly, Janssen-Cilag Pharma GmbH, KRKA-Pharma, Lundbeck A/S, Neuraxpharm, Pfizer, Pierre Fabre, Schwabe and Servier. R.L. received travel grants and/or conference speaker honoraria from Shire, AstraZeneca, Lundbeck A/S, Dr. Willmar Schwabe GmbH, Orphan Pharmaceuticals AG, Janssen-Cilag Pharma GmbH, and Roche Austria GmbH.