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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.
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.
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.
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.
Antidepressive pharmacotherapy (AD), electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are effective treatments for major depressive disorder. With our review, we aim to provide a systematic overview of neuroimaging studies that investigate the effects of AD, ECT and CBT on brain grey matter volume (GMV) and biomarkers associated with response. After a systematic database research on PubMed, we included 50 studies using magnetic resonance imaging and investigating (1) changes in GMV, (2) pre-treatment GMV biomarkers associated with response, or (3) the accuracy of predictions of response to AD, ECT or CBT based on baseline GMV data. The strongest evidence for brain structural changes was found for ECT, showing volume increases within the temporal lobe and subcortical structures – such as the hippocampus–amygdala complex, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and striatum. For AD, the evidence is heterogeneous as only 4 of 11 studies reported significant changes in GMV. The results are not sufficient in order to draw conclusions about the structural brain effects of CBT. The findings show consistently that higher pre-treatment ACC volume is associated with response to AD, ECT and CBT. An association of higher pre-treatment hippocampal volume and response has only been reported for AD. Machine learning approaches based on pre-treatment whole brain patterns reach accuracies of 64–90% for predictions of AD or ECT response on the individual patient level. The findings underline the potential of brain biomarkers for the implementation in clinical practice as an additive feature within the process of treatment selection.
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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