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Although neuroimaging studies suggest brain regional abnormalities in depressive disorders, it remains unclear whether abnormalities are present at illness onset or reflect disease progression.
We hypothesized that cerebral variations were present in adolescents with subthreshold depression known to be at high risk for later full-blown depression.
We examined brain structural and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance images of adolescents with subthreshold depression.
The participants were extracted from the European IMAGEN study cohort of healthy adolescents recruited at age 14. Subthreshold depression was defined as a distinct period of abnormally depressed or irritable mood, or loss of interest, plus two or more depressive symptoms but without diagnosis of Major Depressive Episode. Comparisons were performed between adolescents meeting these criteria and control adolescents within the T1-weighted imaging modality (118 and 475 adolescents respectively) using voxel-based morphometry and the diffusion tensor imaging modality (89 ad 422 adolescents respectively) using tract-based spatial statistics. Whole brain analyses were performed with a statistical threshold set to p< 0.05 corrected for multiple comparisons.
Compared with controls, adolescents with subthreshold depression had smaller gray matter volume in caudate nuclei, medial frontal and cingulate cortices; smaller white matter volume in anterior limb of internal capsules, left forceps minor and right cingulum; and lower fractional anisotropy and higher radial diffusivity in the genu of corpus callosum.
The findings suggest that adolescents with subthreshold depression have volumetric and microstructural gray and white matter changes in the emotion regulation frontal-striatal-limbic network.
Resilience is the capacity of individuals to resist mental disorders despite exposure to stress. Little is known about its neural underpinnings. The putative variation of white-matter microstructure with resilience in adolescence, a critical period for brain maturation and onset of high-prevalence mental disorders, has not been assessed by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Lower fractional anisotropy (FA) though, has been reported in the corpus callosum (CC), the brain's largest white-matter structure, in psychiatric and stress-related conditions. We hypothesized that higher FA in the CC would characterize stress-resilient adolescents.
Three groups of adolescents recruited from the community were compared: resilient with low risk of mental disorder despite high exposure to lifetime stress (n = 55), at-risk of mental disorder exposed to the same level of stress (n = 68), and controls (n = 123). Personality was assessed by the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI). Voxelwise statistics of DTI values in CC were obtained using tract-based spatial statistics. Regional projections were identified by probabilistic tractography.
Higher FA values were detected in the anterior CC of resilient compared to both non-resilient and control adolescents. FA values varied according to resilience capacity. Seed regional changes in anterior CC projected onto anterior cingulate and frontal cortex. Neuroticism and three other NEO-FFI factor scores differentiated non-resilient participants from the other two groups.
High FA was detected in resilient adolescents in an anterior CC region projecting to frontal areas subserving cognitive resources. Psychiatric risk was associated with personality characteristics. Resilience in adolescence may be related to white-matter microstructure.
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