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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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