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As a neuroprogressive illness, depression is accompanied by brain structural abnormality that extends to many brain regions. However, the progressive structural alteration pattern remains unknown.
To elaborate the progressive structural alteration of depression according to illness duration, we recruited 195 never-treated first-episode patients with depression and 130 healthy controls (HCs) undergoing T1-weighted MRI scans. Voxel-based morphometry method was adopted to measure gray matter volume (GMV) for each participant. Patients were first divided into three stages according to the length of illness duration, then we explored stage-specific GMV alterations and the causal effect relationship between them using causal structural covariance network (CaSCN) analysis.
Overall, patients with depression presented stage-specific GMV alterations compared with HCs. Regions including the hippocampus, the thalamus and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) presented GMV alteration at onset of illness. Then as the illness advanced, others regions began to present GMV alterations. These results suggested that GMV alteration originated from the hippocampus, the thalamus and vmPFC then expanded to other brain regions. The results of CaSCN analysis revealed that the hippocampus and the vmPFC corporately exerted causal effect on regions such as nucleus accumbens, the precuneus and the cerebellum. In addition, GMV alteration in the hippocampus was also potentially causally related to that in the dorsolateral frontal gyrus.
Consistent with the neuroprogressive hypothesis, our results reveal progressive morphological alteration originating from the vmPFC and the hippocampus and further elucidate possible details about disease progression of depression.
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