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Neuroimaging studies on major depressive disorder (MDD) have identified an extensive range of brain structural abnormalities, but the exact neural mechanisms associated with MDD remain elusive. Most previous studies were performed with voxel- or surface-based morphometry which were univariate methods without considering spatial information across voxels/vertices.
Brain morphology was investigated using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and source-based morphometry (SBM) in 1082 MDD patients and 990 healthy controls (HCs) from the REST-meta-MDD Consortium. We first examined group differences in regional grey matter (GM) volumes and structural covariance networks between patients and HCs. We then compared first-episode, drug-naïve (FEDN) patients, and recurrent patients. Additionally, we assessed the effects of symptom severity and illness duration on brain alterations.
VBM showed decreased GM volume in various regions in MDD patients including the superior temporal cortex, anterior and middle cingulate cortex, inferior frontal cortex, and precuneus. SBM returned differences only in the prefrontal network. Comparisons between FEDN and recurrent MDD patients showed no significant differences by VBM, but SBM showed greater decreases in prefrontal, basal ganglia, visual, and cerebellar networks in the recurrent group. Moreover, depression severity was associated with volumes in the inferior frontal gyrus and precuneus, as well as the prefrontal network.
Simultaneous application of VBM and SBM methods revealed brain alterations in MDD patients and specified differences between recurrent and FEDN patients, which tentatively provide an effective multivariate method to identify potential neurobiological markers for depression.
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